Monday, December 12, 2016

My Life Story (in a Nutshell) up to 2016

I realize this is a long post, but it is a talk I gave on "God's Provision" last Saturday, December 10 at the Women's Christmas luncheon at First Baptist Church in Marquette. I thought I would share it here for anyone who is interested in my life story (up until now) in a nutshell. ;)

Today I would like to share some of my story with you, and tell some of the ways God has provided for me during my entire life, leading up to a special miracle that God did in my life this past year—which is how I met my husband. I don’t know how many of you like to watch Hallmark movies or a good chick flick every now and then, but I am guilty. I like a good love story. But I’m a skeptic. I know those kinds of stories don’t happen in real life. They are just movies. However, the Bible is full of all kinds of stories that really DID happen. I think God is the BEST storyteller, and allowing Him to write your story allows for an amazing one.

So I’ve taken a little time to reflect on my own life. Sometimes we get caught up in the mundane and the day-to-day busyness, the daily-ness of life. I think it’s important to take some time to remember what God has done for us in the past. I like to journal and write down memories of what God has done. The Bible is also full of these remembrances of what He has done in the past. In Genesis we read how God created the world. He created mankind. He allowed Moses to sail down the river and be found by Pharaoh’s daughter. He allowed Joseph to be sold in slavery to the Egyptians to put him in place for a future time of famine. He gave Moses the Ten Commandments by carving them into stone. He sent Jesus to earth. He healed the lame, the blind, and multiplied bread and fish. This same miracle-working God is still active. He is the same God we have today. I was raised to believe—and I DO believe—that the Bible is our source of truth. It’s easy to get caught up in the world’s philosophies, but we need to examine everything with the Scripture and take that as our basis for truth. Speaking of truth, it’s a true story that God provided for us all by sending His Son Jesus to earth to be born in a manger, which we are celebrating at Christmastime.

I was born in Marquette 38 years ago. Speaking of God’s provision, God provided a good gift to me with my parents, Jim and Ruth Hill. I grew up in a pastor’s family. My parents were missionary church planters at Bible Baptist Church in Ishpeming. God truly provided for me godly parents who brought me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. At an early age I learned about Jesus. And of course that is God’s best gift to us—the gift of His Son Jesus. I learned how God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to earth to be born in a manger, to die for us on the cross, to take our punishment, how he rose from the dead, and how He has a plan for each one of us. So when I was 4 years old I trusted in Christ as my Savior, and I wanted to learn how to live for Him.

God provided to me some musical gifts. When I was 5, my mom started teaching me the piano, and I kept up with it, so by the age of 13 I had pretty much taken over playing the piano for church every Sunday. I continued studying piano through college. I enjoyed that. And I really liked my family. I was a good kid. And as most kids do, I started thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I realized that someday I really wanted to grow up to have a home like I grew up in. I loved having my mom stay at home with us, homeschool us, and serve in church. I wanted to be married to someone who loved the Lord and was serving Him—possibly as a missionary.

I loved the idea of staying home and being a homemaker. I wasn’t really interested in being a “career woman.” So I started preparing as best I could, learning how to bake and cook and babysit. However, the world’s philosophy is often that you need to go out and get a job. So I didn’t always feel like I “fit in” with my peers in this way. Plus I was not really into the idea of dating. I had pretty high standards for whom I would marry, and I really wanted to please God with my life. I wanted to evaluate my life by the Scriptures, so when you turn to the Scriptures, what does it say? “Hold fast to the Word of God.” Don’t be swayed by what other people think you should do, if what they are saying isn’t backed up by the truth of Scripture. Run everything through the grid of Scripture…learn to distinguish the lies from the truth. Hold to your convictions. So I did.

I’ll be honest. I sometimes have a fear of people. I want to be liked by people. So sometimes it’s easier for me to not be around people. I would much rather be holed up with a blanket and a good book than with people, a lot of the time. And if you are trying to live for God, sometimes other people will tempt you to do things you shouldn’t do. So, my solution, in general, was to avoid people. That’s not a good solution. I’m not saying my motives were always right. In fact, looking back I can see how often I was often just trying to please people instead of pleasing God. But God has been working on me in my “relationship building” skills. And I’m learning that there is a fine art between “speaking truth” and “speaking truth in love.” I also tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. I’m the bossy big sister, as my 3 younger siblings will be happy to tell you. I sometimes thought I WAS perfect. And when you start to spend time with other people, you realize you are NOT perfect. NONE of us is perfect. We ALL have ways we need to grow and change. But isn’t it great? God is a God of hope and of second chances. We don’t have to be perfect in this life! The point of this life is not perfection. We won’t achieve that until heaven. So as I started to grow in my eternal perspective, I realized that it’s ok to be imperfect. It’s ok to make mistakes. God isn’t looking for perfection, He’s looking for teachability.  And it all comes down to the daily moments of life.

I’m thankful I was taught that the LITTLE things are important. It’s what I’ve heard called the principle of the path. As you look at your life and think about where you’d like to end up, are the steps you taking causing you to head in that direction? Are you praying for wisdom in the little things? And as you are faithful and seek to trust God in the SMALL moments of life, God gives wisdom and direction for the BIG moments of life. A thing like college was a BIG decision. My personality tends to be a worrier--or fearful. There is that fear of uncertainty. Or fear of failure. What if I pick the wrong college? What if I don’t get married?  I had to choose to decide to trust God. My God will provide. You know what I have learned? You can’t mess up God’s plan for your life! If you are choosing to daily follow God, you can’t go wrong! What does the Scripture say? “My God will provide all your needs.”

As far as college goes, my dad & I visited Northland Baptist Bible College in Dunbar, WI one time, and I loved it. I went there and got a degree in piano pedagogy. I figured in case I didn’t end up married I needed a back-up plan: which was to teach piano. I was very focused on my studies. I wanted to get good grades and be a good student. God had provided me with my gifts and abilities. I wanted to do the best job I could with them and serve Him with my talents. And to be the best piano player I could be, and I knew that required practice. So I practiced my 10 hours a week and did my homework, and that left little time for social activities—which was ok with me, because you can imagine how much I like social activities anyway. Halfway through senior year I had no clue what I was going to do next. You know what else I realized? I like to have a plan. I like to know what’s going to happen next. But God doesn’t always give us that insight. Sometimes His plan requires TRUST. And WAITING. And that’s not always fun. What does the Scripture say? “Our eyes are upon you.” And Romans 12:1-2 “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this world, but be ye transformed, by the renewing of your minds, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Then God provided a wonderful job. Do you believe in coincidences? I don’t. God is able to ordain every step, and He sets up divine appointments. Well, in His providence, my piano teacher ran into an acquaintance at a conference over winter break of my senior year, and she said they were looking for a piano teacher at a new addition for their school: Faith Christian School in Lafayette, IN. He thought I might be a good fit. So in March of senior year I visited Lafayette one time, and it was a no-brainer. It was the perfect fit for me. Looking back, I realize how big of a move that was. It was a good thing I was trusting in God’s plan for my life and didn’t think about it too much. I was moving out for the first time, moving 9 hours away, I was barely 22 years old, I had never set up my own place before, I didn’t even own a bed or a car, and while I like to think I knew what I was doing, I didn’t have a clue. But it was an adventure, and I was trusting God to provide, because I knew He was in it. And God did provide. He provided a car.  And when that car broke down He provided people to help me with what to do and funds to fix it. He provided a place for me to live rent-free for 3 months while I figured out what to do. He provided piano students for me. And later on he provided a house for me to buy.  “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Let me tell you a little bit about Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana. It’s an incredible church. It’s also a BIG church, and I’m just a hometown U.P. girl—I prefer my small town, back woods, quiet places. But there were so many incredible learning opportunities there. Faith is known for its counseling ministry. Counseling was never something I was interested in, but as I learned that as I needed to work on, shall we say, my “people skills” I found it valuable information, mainly to apply to my own life. They’ll tell you that a good counselor is first a good counselee. So I learned as much information as I could, but I still didn’t know how to work on applying it to my own life, since basically I was already perfect. Or, shall we say, I just didn’t let people get close enough to me that I found that I had things to work on.

Well, when I bought a 3-bedroom house that changed. I started to branch out and have roommates. And have people over. Another thing I had learned from my parents was hospitality. While, yes, I did want to be married, I didn’t want to miss out on opportunities that God brought my way while I was single. If God brought an opportunity my way, I wanted to be able to capitalize on it. However, there was a problem. I was busy. I kept very busy with my job. I was a piano teacher at Faith Christian School with 45 private lessons, teaching preschool music, and accompanying for choirs and ensembles. I was also the president of the local music teachers’ association for a time, and I was a sought-after piano teacher and accompanist. I put on good concerts and played the piano for church. I will tell you that serving God brings true joy. I really enjoyed my job, but it was tiring. And I was finding that I was a little lonely, since I didn’t have many close relationships. I still saw my family, but not as often as I liked because they were a 9-hour drive away. But I really did want to do things for the glory of God. So what does the Scripture say? What has lasting value? It’s people. The souls of people are eternal. So I started to realize the importance of investing in people. God has built us for relationship. Of course, our first and foremost relationship is with Him. If we don’t have that relationship, we don’t have anything. I was actually very content with just my relationship with God. In fact, it was sometimes easiest to say, “I didn’t need anyone else, I only needed God.” But the fact is that God has created us to learn and grow through the process of relationships. And relationships are hard. I liked my contented, single life.

I loved having the house to myself, but I realized that I was basically proud and selfish. If I wanted to be a missionary where God had put me, I needed to reach out. So I started opening up my house to single girls. That wasn’t necessarily an easy thing. But I started to pray for God to give me compassion and love for others. Sometimes God calls us to do something hard. So, again, through the grid of Scripture: I had to look at what I believe. And just saying something isn’t good enough. I had to act on it. Did I believe that every human life has value? Did I believe God has put me here in this place? Had God brought this person into my life for a reason? What should I do to glorify God in this situation? How can I serve? And do it with excellence?

So God provided roommates for me, starting with my youngest sister. Then there were 6 other girls that God brought to me for various lengths of time. Since I knew how hard it was to move out on my own, my heart was for girls who were just getting out on their own, who needed a place with low rent so they could save and get a good start. One of the ministries at Faith in Lafayette was called Vision of Hope, which is a residential treatment center for girls with life-threatening problems or habits of self-harm. It’s a pretty intense place. And the girls there are not the types of girls that a “good girl” would want to hang around with, if you get my meaning. My parents had raised me to be careful of who I associated with and not to get involved with the wrong crowd. But as I was more mature, I started getting to know these girls. And how God can provide hope for change. And I realized that we actually had a lot in common. So most of the girls I housed came from Vision of Hope. We kind of joked that my house was the house for the “rebels.”

I don’t have time to share much of this story, but I didn’t really get started housing the rebels of my own accord. God provided the push I needed by having a girl (who I knew was a Vision of Hope dropout) knock on my door and ask if she could sleep on the couch for the night. Right there I had a choice to make. And sometimes the smallest decisions have ripple effects. If I truly believe that every human being matters to God, shouldn’t I show love and compassion, especially when she has nowhere else to turn? This girl had made a lot of wrong decisions. She was a drug addict. She had piercings and tattoos. She had had her 2 kids taken away from her. But God started building compassion in my heart, rather than judgment. It’s easy to think that “I wouldn’t have done that” or “What was she thinking?” instead of showing love and compassion. What would Jesus do?

I didn’t want to compromise who God had made me to be. I didn’t give up on my convictions. But what does the Bible say? Jesus spent time with prostitutes and sinners, and if I can’t put up with a couple of tattoos and piercings with those who’ve had a past with alcohol, drugs, cutting, abuse, even prostitution, I’m not showing the love of Christ. So I said “absolutely.” And that decision led to probably the hardest two years of my life, but through the struggles, God provided. He provided hope, grace, and even joy! I found that I really actually enjoyed having her stay with me. That started me on the path of getting more involved with people. Even those who’d had a different past than I did. God provided grace, compassion, and love in my heart for these individuals. And you know what? I didn’t have a CLUE what I was doing. But God taught me to depend on Him and to go to His Word for guidance. What do you say when a girl you’re housing comes back from court where her son has been taken away from her and given a new last name? Sometimes there’s nothing to say. But I knew I would want someone to BE there for me. That’s a time in your life when you need friends. And truth. And not “Do you see what your drug addiction has done” condemnation—she already knows that, but “I’m here for you. What do you need?” Because that’s what Jesus would do. Because I truly believe that every person is important to God. And if I believe that in my heart, then I need to act on it. In faith. Not knowing the outcome. I didn’t know if this girl was going to rob me. I didn’t know if she was going to steal my car. I didn’t know if she was going to kill herself on my couch. But I knew I could trust God. And HE had brought this person into my life, so I wasn’t going to give up until He did. Does God ever give up? “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

I also learned (again) that I like to be in control. I like to fix things. And sometimes you just need to be there. Sometimes a small act of kindness, like fixing lunch, or buying groceries, is just what someone needs to show them the love of God. Well, I can do that. I can show God’s love by being there in a time of need. I can point them to Jesus the best way I know how. That led to 2 years of chaos, but also some of the most fulfilling chaos of my life. I’d always been interested in fostering, but as a single person figured that was out of my reach. God brought along a 4-year-old girl (the daughter of this friend) who needed babysitting and care—often last-minute. I spent more time driving to court appointments and visitations than I ever thought possible--while still working my full full-time job. I had no idea what God was doing. But I wanted to be available. Oftentimes the best ability is availability. And God provided.

Through that God really gave me the desire to just want to stay home and take care of people. But that didn’t pay the bills. So I worked harder than ever. And prayed. Prayed for God to give me wisdom and direction. Sometimes I wondered what in the world God was doing, but I wanted to trust Him.

Remember, I had always wanted to be married, but I also believed it was not my job to pursue that. I had been brought up believing that if the guy was the right guy for you, he would be the one to pursue you. Whenever someone asked me about it, I would generally say “I’m waiting for God to bring the right person along.” And if I truly believed that, then I needed to act on it. If I truly believe my God is a God who provides, who cares about each minute detail of my life, can’t I trust Him to take care of this for me? For me, this meant not pursuing anything along these lines. Sometimes waiting is hard. I was tempted to go online to one of those dating sites (my life was so crazy I didn’t have time for anything else other than something online), but I thought FOR ME that would be manipulating God. I believed that God wanted me to just wait. In fact, my prayer was, “God, if you want me to get married you’re going to have make me stumble over it while I’m serving you.” I had a piano student who told me once, when I told him I was waiting for God, that “you know, you have to DO something.” And, for me, I prayed about it, and really believed, NO, I don’t have to do something. The man I’ll marry will find me IF God wants him to. I’m out there. I’m visible. I’ve got a blog. I’ve got facebook. If he wants to track me down, he can.

Remember, I said I have a great God who can part the Red Sea? He can heal the blind? Make the lame walk? That is the same great God. He is the SAME God we serve today. He can make things happen if He wants to.

On December 23 of 2015 (almost exactly a year ago) God did a miracle. Due to the influence of one of my roommates, I had been thinking about getting a concealed pistol license, and getting a firearm. When I came home at Christmas break last year, I was so tired, and tired of scheduling, that I had told my mom, I’m done with scheduling. You do the planning, all I want to do is sleep, but I’ll do whatever the family plans to do. But I’m not putting anything together. The only thing I had planned to do was to look at my friend Emily Carpenter’s gun. She called me on the first day home and said, why don’t you come over to our house for lasagna and games, since her family was also home. Plus she had known I was interested in getting a gun so we were going to make plans for me to look at hers. Her plan was, “you just really need to shoot my gun.” Then she said, “by the way, we’ve also invited Andy Larsen for dinner.” My first thought was “I hope they’re not trying to set us up.” I knew Andy from working at Christian radio station WHWL 20 years ago when I was in high school. He trained me in there. I knew he was still working there (because I heard him on the radio), but I hadn’t seen him for 10 years since he had been at my sister’s wedding as the photographer. I also knew it had just been 5 months since his wife had been killed in a car accident. So…we had lasagna together and played games. We talked with everyone else. I was curious how he was doing, and he did say he planned to take some time off at the holidays and do some cleaning, and how “5 months of not caring cannot be erased in 4 days.” Sounded like there was lots to do. Maybe he needed help. And I was interested in seeing his property. I’d never been there. But I heard he had a nice house in the woods. So, when Emily and I were talking about trying to find time to shoot, he offered the use of his property. I remember thinking, “well, if he ever decides he wants to get married again, I’d be interested.” Later on, I found out HE was interested.

So, a week later, December 30, I went with the whole Carpenter clan and my dad to Andy’s property to go shooting, so I could try out Emily’s gun. I asked Emily’s brother on the way over more about what he could remember about Andy’s wife’s death and the car accident and what had happened. Then we drove on to his property, and I remember thinking “I could live here.” And we went inside the house, and I kind of scoped it out, thinking it had to be rough trying to manage everything on his own now. He probably needed a wife. But that was just my own crazy thinking…or so I thought.

I had just spent time that week with my parents over Christmas visiting my grandpa in Minnesota. He was dying, and I really had the desire to just be there to be able to take care of my family. I wished I didn’t have to go back to my job. So especially as we drove to Andy’s property, I was thinking, ok, this is 45 minutes from my parents, perfect location. In the woods. Perfect location. In the U.P.!! Oh, how I missed the U.P. And here’s the kicker: HE HAD HORSES. I had always wanted horses. This was too good to be true.

But God is a good God. I went back to Lafayette, and almost immediately in January Andy started messaging me on Facebook. At first, like any good girl would do who wants to be pursued: I ignored him. I’m thinking, “Weird, does he know I like him and I already decided I could marry him?” And he’s thinking, “Hmmm she’s blowing me off. Apparently she’s not interested.” But I wanted to make sure I wasn’t leading him on or trying to manipulate the situation. And after a couple of weeks it got more serious. After about 2 weeks of my trying to ignore him, he stepped up his game and asked if he could call me sometime. Hmmm, maybe he was interested. Well, this would be crazy! But, when I’d seen his property I’d pretty much decided I’d marry him, so I figured we might as well start talking. Let me just say, I had asked for God to make it obvious to me. And God provided. When we started seriously “talking” via facebook messenger, God made it plain pretty fast that we were both on the same page. I wish I had time to share all the details, but when you have a host of people praying and a big God, things happen. If God had provided for me in every step of my way until this point, and if He is a miracle-working God, who’s to say He can’t just work a miracle in my life? And you know what? I didn’t need to do anything. Once we realized this was from God and the answer to multiple prayers, things moved pretty quickly. Again, I was facing fears of what people would think. It was easy to focus on the unknown, but I had to take a step of faith. Could I actually quit my job? Was I crazy? But God provided, again. The short version is that 4 months later we were engaged and another 4 months and we were married. So this Christmas we’ll be celebrating our first Christmas together.

Have I mentioned my wish list that I made when I was 14? I wanted a godly man who would pursue me. Someone who was in full-time ministry (Andy is the manager of WHWL Christian radio station). Someone I could serve alongside (I work part-time at the radio station). I didn’t have to change any of “my” plans. I felt like I was coming home. I can be a homemaker, teaching piano lessons out of my home. I have 5 students now and that is so much better than 45.

I am currently on the 5-year unpacking plan. Did I mention that Andy needed a wife to help take care of things at home? I’m loving my new full-time job as stay-at-home wife. And you know what? I have no idea what’s next. But I have great confidence in God and in the future. I need to be fully dependent on God for every moment of the day. I need to continue to be searching the Scriptures, showing my dependence on God. And He can take care of me. God provides. And this same God can be your God too.

I had a plan when I was younger. I was going to grow up, get married, live on a farm, be a homemaker, and teach piano lessons on the side. Well, guess what? It’s a little later than I thought, but God knew what He was doing. God provided. Jehovah-Jireh. I thought I was ready 15 years ago. But, looking back, I can see now that God was truly preparing me. And my prayer was that God would be glorified while I was waiting. My prayer today is that you can find hope in this God who can provide good gifts for you. We may not see the answers in this lifetime, but whether we see it or not, we can have faith in this great, providing God.

My point is that no matter how dark or how difficult the situation you are in, or how tired you are of “waiting for God to do something,” there is joy in every step of the journey when you choose to trust in God. Believe that God has a plan for your life. You are not here by accident. Maybe God wants to use you to provide in the life of someone else. Every person has value and significance. Trust Him, and act. Do the next thing. Then be dependent on God’s Word as your source of truth and your guide. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

2000 years ago the world was waiting for Messiah. Then the time came. God sent Jesus to earth as the best Christmas gift ever. Think how wonderful that fulfillment of prophecy was and what a great God we serve. Jehovah-Jireh. God provides

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

well good grief. I am a ball of tears. Thank you for sharing. God is so very good! G-Knee

E. Noelle Haynie said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I knew bits and pieces and was so encouraged to read the whole thing. What a great theme--God provides. He is so good!