Letter for Noël on Her Birthday
December 27 is Noël Piper’s birthday. In this open letter, her husband John celebrates the gift of her support.
Happy birthday, Noël. Your name bears your time. You were born two days after Christmas. When your father got the telegram halfway around the world in the Navy in 1947 that Noël Frances Henry had been born, he telegrammed back: “Boy or girl?”
From the first time I saw you in the summer of 1966, I never had that question. Everything in me said, Girl! Now, having just celebrated 38 years of marriage (December 21), I am deeply thankful that you were and are wonderfully female.
That was the first criterion I had for a wife—female. The second was: She treasures Jesus Christ. The third was that she like me. The fourth was that she be willing to go wherever God calls us. (Remember the conversation on the couch in your apartment that first summer when I named the hardest places I could think of, and you said, Yes? I had not even asked you to marry me yet.)
In fact one of the things I love about you to this day is your commitment to go anywhere and do anything under any circumstances, as long as Christ is in the lead. One of your most famous lines around Bethlehem is from the time I was so discouraged, I put my face in my hands and said after church one Sunday afternoon, “I think we should move to Africa.” You said, without hesitation, from the bedroom, “Tell me when to pack.” Awesome!
What a gift you are to me! I hope you don’t mind my glorying in getting gifts on your birthday. All Christian Hedonists know that when I exult in you as a gift on your birthday you get the honor! I am happy to have it so.
So today I celebrate the blessings of your rock solid support, layer upon layer.
- You have supported me in my faith. When I have wavered in discouragement, you have never sunk, but stood. You have directed me to our sovereign King again and again.
- You have supported me in theology, pushing on the unclear places and standing, in the end, where I stand, glad to glory with me in the good news for us sinners of God’s great God-centeredness. O, that all could see how precious it is! Faithful to us for his sake, not finally ours. Nothing more solid and sure!
- You have supported me in the work and in the truth but not in flattery or ego-puffery. You are singularly unimpressed with John Piper. Just rock solid and there for him.
- You have supported me in managing a home with four small sons, now grown, and one late-arriving daughter, now growing. Only a mother can know what it costs the heart and body to be there for children all the time. But I know some of the cost. And I do not take it for granted. It shall not go unpraised. The price was high. Our sons are not perfect, but they are strong with your strength, and I am glad. May Talitha bring such strength to her man.
- You have supported me as a Song of Solomon bride—bringing me more pleasures than I could ever deserve, and wakening in me hopes that heaven, which must be better, though there is no marriage there, will be indescribably good.
- You have supported me in the unusual calling God has given me—private (because I write), public (because I preach), and controversial (because I take some unpopular stands). In private you protect me, in public you stand with me, in controversy you help me keep my bearings.
When we were together in Red Wing on our anniversary a few days ago, I said to you, and meant it (a statement you have always trusted): In all our years together and now, I only have eyes for you—even in my head. You said, “That’s a good anniversary gift.” I have turned it into a poem. It is a renewed pledge: Only you, Noël. Only you, till death do us part. I love you.
For None But You
Before his boils made him unable to
Feel anything but pain,
Job made a covenant: “I will be true,”
He pledged. “If I should gain
Or lose the world, I will not use my eyes
To look upon a maid,
Nor let my mind spy or pursue a prize
By which you are betrayed.”
And thus he loved his wife with all his heart.
And I have done the same,
But not to imitate, as though the art
Of such obsession came
By wanting more, and saying No to this.
It has not been that way,
Though tearing out the eye is good, the bliss
Of eyes that will not stray
Is best. Nor do I mean such bliss that breaks
Beneath the weight of pain,
But ever holds like steel and never shakes
Beneath a world of strain.
This is the deep allegiance of my eyes
And of my mind and heart.
It is not wrought by pow’r of will that tries
With effort to depart
From foreign fire. It is a gift to me
And you. I will be true,
So help me God. These eyes will never be
For anyone but you.