Today there is a funeral in Texas.
I’m sure there are many other funerals happening around the world today, but this one is for my friend, Noel. I’ve never met Noel, so it may appear strange that I wrote something to be read at her funeral. But, actually the opposite is true.
I wish I could have flown to Texas today to read this in front of everyone, but I couldn’t. But the following is what I would have said:
My name is Annie Garman and I have never met any of you. But our lives intertwine in such an amazing way today because of our Noel.
Let me explain…
You see, in 2008 our family left our home in Northern Virginia and moved to Iceland as Southern Baptist missionaries. There were no missionaries from our organization there, and we decided it would be the best use of our time and energy to go there and try to plant a gospel-centered church.
I started a blog that year so that we could record our stories and our adventures and keep up with friends and family. I’m glad I did. Living in Iceland had its share of challenges. Right after we quit our jobs and rented out our home to leave for Reykjavik, Iceland, the government denied our VISA. We went to Iceland on our passports and waited over 15 months for a VISA. It was a trying time. During that time, I also had a miscarriage, our home in Virginia experienced a major fire, and a friend died in Afghanistan.
Culture shock was intense, and blogging was an outlet for me during that time. I didn’t know who all was reading it, but I continued to pour my heart out into cyberspace year after year.
In 2010, after finally getting VISAs and settling into the country, we got pregnant again. At the 20 week ultrasound, less than a minute after hearing that we were having a girl, we found out that something was wrong with our baby’s heart. Our whole world changed in a matter of seconds.
Very soon after we had to leave Iceland and move to America where we could get the best care for our daughter. It was a scary time and nothing was very certain about our future. Would our daughter survive? What would happen to our family? Would we move back to Iceland? Would we find a job in America during the economic recession? My prayer life was reduced to one word (Two on a good day): Help. Please Help.
On June 12th, 2010 I turned on my computer and found the following message:
Annie (and all the Garmans),
My name is Noel Devin. I live in College Station, Texas, and you don’t know me from Adam! I’ve been harassing a dear friend about starting a blog for months and sending her examples of blogs that praise God by showing how He works every day. She has these beautiful twin boys that I’m so grateful I can call my nephews. In this whole thing I’ve bounced all over the world reading and rejoicing in how God’s working everywhere all the time. Last week, on Wednesday, I landed on your blog. I’m not sure how I even landed there! I feel like a bit of a voyuer, peering into your lives.
At the same time, though, I feel genuinely blessed to have encountered you. Your family, especially the tiny Garman, has been on my heart. I’ve been praying about this need to help your family financially. What I believe God has in mind was more than I could manage on my own and I couldn’t see a way.
On October 13, 2009, my grandmother was called Home. She was consumed, her whole life, by an insatiable thirst for the Lord. Last night, after a week of praying for a way to follow through on what God had laid on my heart about your family I got a phone call from my mom letting me know that Mammy’s estate had been settled.
God’s given me the means. Will you allow me the opportunity?
I understand that this is out of the blue and may seem a little bit odd. I’d encourage you to pray about it and to discuss it. It is my fervent hope that you’ll feel comfortable with this. In any event, thank you so much for sharing your story. My family is praying for yours and will continue to do so.
At first I thought it was a scam. Suuuuure….someone in Texas that we’ve never met wants to give us money? Does this “Noel Devin” character just want our bank account info?
My husband and I prayed about it, sent more messages to this stranger, and sought advice from friends and family. Eventually, we told this stranger who was slowly becoming a friend that if she felt led by God to give us money, we would let her.
Our daughter, Gracie Garman, was born on 8-9-10 at 11:12 pm (depending on which clock you were looking at in the room). She had a major open heart surgery a few days after she was born and through the prayers of God’s people, survived.
It was the highest amount of stress we had ever experienced as a family. We couldn’t return to Iceland because of how severe Gracie’s heart defect was. What would become of us?
My husband spent many days and nights applying for jobs from room 717 of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Gracie had another open heart surgery that year and we still didn’t have a full-time job. Did I mention that the stress was high?
But, let me also mention that God was there. He took care of us in many profound ways. One of them was through Noel.
Noel sent us $10,000 that first year of Gracie’s life.
In one sense, God used Noel Devin to keep our family alive. Her money was used to buy groceries and gas and pay medical bills. Her money was more than just a physical blessing…it was a reminder that God saw us, cared about us, and would take care of us. Noel’s gift made us stand in awe of the God that we served.
Noel and I wrote a lot to each other during that time. Here is one of my messages I sent to her in 2011:
Hey there my favorite Texan!
I know Colby wrote you a few weeks ago, but I wanted to take some time to write you myself also. I just wanted to tell you again that you are very much appreciated. There have been MANY times in the last several weeks that something has happened to us and the least stressful solution involves spending money. In the past this would have really stressed me out, but lately Colby has been saying to me, “I have TWO WORDS for you….TWO WORDS: Noel. Devin.” I just wanted to tell you that today.
I don’t know much about you at all, but I know that you are sensitive to God’s Spirit and for that we are thankful.
Love from VA,
Because Noel had given us money and friends were letting us stay at their home, we lived in Northern Virginia during that year as we looked for a full time job. When Noel’s money finally ran out in 2011, it was like we were freefalling again. But, with such peace. Surely God would provide again like He had in the past.
A few weeks after Noel sent her last check, my husband was asked to be the pastor at Pillar Church in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Pillar was a new church plant that our old church had planted 7 years previous. Pillar was focused on planting new churches, specifically planting a church near every major Marine Corps Base around the world.
We knew that going to Pillar would be a step of faith financially. Pillar was a baby church plant and couldn’t really afford to take us on. But, we had learned a lesson–a very important lesson– from Noel. God could literally bring money out of nowhere.
In June 2011 we said yes to Pillar and have been there ever since. We have been working tirelessly at training church planters and sending them out. There is now a Pillar Church in Quantico, Virginia; Stafford, Virginia; Jacksonville, North Carolina; and Oceanside, California; and Washington, D.C. And each of these churches are working on planting healthy, reproducible churches as well. If Noel hadn’t given us the money, we wouldn’t have stuck around Northern Virginia and landed at Pillar. We feel like Noel’s money was what God used to bring us where we are now.
Over the last few years, as new people have come to our church, we’ve told them the story of the past few years. As you can imagine, Noel is a huge part of our story.
What else could I possibly say to you all? I never met Noel Devin. In fact, the very last message I sent to her said, “I would love someday to have you come out here, meet the Pillar family and see how God is working in and through us to plant churches around this area.” My only regret is that I didn’t buy her a ticket sooner.
After we heard the tragic news this past week, my husband and I held each other and cried. Then we gathered the children around us and said we had a story to tell them.
We read them the first message Noel had ever sent us. We read them all the messages that Noel sent us over the years. At the end, we told them that Noel had passed away, and you cannot imagine the weeping and genuine sobbing that came from my three year old, my seven year old, and nine year old.
Or maybe you can.
We all held each other and cried, grieving the loss of someone we had never met, but who had sacrificed so much of herself for us. Through my tears, I looked up at God and could just feel His eye on us. He loved us so much.
Over the years as I’ve pondered what Noel did for us in our time of need, I’ve been humbled. Can you even imagine? Our Great God heard the prayers of the Garman family and He whispered a solution to OUR problems into Noel Devin’s heart. And He gave HER the strength to be obedient to what He was asking of her.
What a story of grace.
Thank you, Noel, for painting us such a clear picture of Christ’s love.
May all who gaze on it be changed.