A Girl Named Noel Devin

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.

Noel Devin

***

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.

post-surgery

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,

Annie

**

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.

  • Sarah Nuñez

    Annie, thank you so much for this. Now I get to hear the rest of the story. I was at the funeral today for Noel and her father, Mac. I met Noel only once or twice, but my family and I know her parents and her brothers well. This story about Noel illustrates just the kind of people they are. As many have said, Mac and Noel are irreplaceable. I pray God’s comfort for you and your family, the Devins, and for all of us who are deeply feeling their loss today.

    • http://anniebrogan.com/ Annie Brogan

      Mac and Noel are irreplaceable. Well said.

  • Erin Hamilton

    Annie, thank you so much for sharing this story. I literally just walked in the door, having traveled back today from Noel and Mac’s memorial in College Station yesterday. I am in awe and yet not surprised at your story. Oh, she was such a compassionate, loyal person. I am so happy you were in each other’s lives and I just thank you so deeply for helping us to get to know her better through your story. What a story of grace, indeed.

    • http://anniebrogan.com/ Annie Brogan

      Erin, yes, she was very loyal and compassionate. I still am shaking my head at this whole story…

  • Norma Glenn

    Annie,
    Thank you so much for sharing this about Noel. Noel and my daughter were very good friends, and we all loved Noel. This just confirms what we all knew — that Noel was a very special, caring person who God used in wonderful ways. We know your family is hurting as is ours as we come to grips with Noel’s tragic death, and we will pray for you and your ministry. May God continue the good work he has begun.

    • http://anniebrogan.com/ Annie Brogan

      I’m so sorry that your daughter lost a friend. Such a good and loyal friend. I can only imagine how hard this must be for those of you who knew her in person.

  • http://www.scottpostma.net/ Scott Postma

    What a powerful story of God’s grace in the lives of willing servants. Thank you for sharing that beautiful and sad story. May God bring peace and grace to the hurting families affected by this tragic loss.

  • Linda Dyer

    I knew the Devin’s when they lived in McKinney, Texas. I didn’t know Mac, but at the time new Nicholas, Noel and their Mom. Such strong people of faith. I was not able to go to the funeral today, but my heart is broken for Karla and the boys. They will be in my prayers, as I am not sure how anyone ever gets thur this without our God being right beside us. Grace is sufficient…words to say but how to live them in this time for the I do not know, but I will continually pray for this family. Karla and boys you are in my heart.

    • http://anniebrogan.com/ Annie Brogan

      Dear Jesus, we lift up Karla and the boys to you right now. We pray for you to be nearer than ever. May your presence make them smile while all else around them fades. May your peace and joy sustain them for the rest of their time here. We ask you, Jesus, to be their Counselor and their Comforter. Please do miracles for them in their time of need like we KNOW you can do. We pray this for your glory, Amen.

  • Bill Burden

    Thank you for sharing this story about Noel’s faith. I am one of many Aggies that Noel has helped over the years. She was our hero. We knew she was special, but had never met her, nor knew of her walk with The Lord. She will be missed on this earth, but she is rejoicing with our Father today.

    • http://anniebrogan.com/ Annie Brogan

      She was/is a hero to our family, too!

  • Jacqueline Terrel

    This blog came across my facebook feed and I cried reading it. Our son has had hospital stays and brain surgery in his short nine months of life after being born with toxoplasmosis. I can’t imagine the worry of money on top of all the other stress you were under. And to see how faithful Noel was to send money to a person she never met. It’s just amazing. I was telling my husband about your post after googleing Noel’s name and he reminded me that he told me about her last week after having read about her on an Aggie website. He told me that everyone on the website liked her because she always answered any questions she could. The reward she is receving in Heaven for her legacy here on Earth must be tremendous. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • http://anniebrogan.com/ Annie Brogan

      God took amazing care of us during our time of need. I just pray that those who go through similar things that we did will experience the love of an amazing God and Father.

  • David Bryant

    Annie, thanks for sharing this story. My wife and I know the Devin family well, having met them in 1985 when Noel’s family moved to Bryan so Mac could attend vet school at A&M. Noel was 4 at the time and her brother was 2. We were students at A&M ourselves and soon to be married. We attended church with the Devins, babysat the kids, attended their birthday parties and spent a lot of time in the Devin home during our college years. The Noel Devin you described in your post is very much the Noel that we know. Your story of her care for your family in your time of need, though previously unknown to us, is not surprising to us. Noel, her dad and the entire Devin family are the most selflessly loving people I’ve ever met. We’re forever changed for knowing them…because they’ve helped us know Jesus better and love him more.

    • http://anniebrogan.com/ Annie Brogan

      I’m so sorry that you lost such close friends. You were blessed to have known them. What a legacy they left the rest of us.

  • Cathy Latham

    My daughter got to know Noel when she worked at Sully’s in College Station. Noel come in there quite a bit. My daughter and Noel hung out together, she stayed with Noel when they did “Aggie” things. My daughter got a job and moved to NYC. She posted this blog to her FB page and I read it. WOW. Never met Noel, what an amazing woman and I wonder just how many lives her life and death will touch for Jesus. May God Bless and keep you.

    • http://anniebrogan.com/ Annie Brogan

      “I wonder just how many lives her life and death will touch for Jesus.” We’ll never know exactly…What a testimony she was of Christ’s love.

  • KM

    Annie, Noel and Mac were both very dear to my daughter. She and another close friend spent that last weekend at Noel’s enjoying a tradition known as Chilifest. Because she had an exam the next day she left right before noon on Sunday. She got a phone call early Monday morning with the devastating news. The past two weeks have been difficult to say the least. I am in awe of the overwhelming effect that Noel and her father had on so many people. Learning of her special relationship with your family leaves me in even greater amazement. My daughter is grieving greatly, but does find comfort knowing that Noel is Home. Noel and Mac will ALWAYS be a part of her. She is forever changed by this loss in so many ways. I pray for peace of understanding for all. HE is the only way through this tragedy.

    • http://anniebrogan.com/ Annie Brogan

      I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t understand just how deep this is for you and your daughter. Noel was amazing and I never even met her in person. I’m so thankful that this story gives you some comfort. We are all changed by this loss.

  • Heidi Pressler

    Annie, I read this 4 months ago and cried then. I read it again just now, and go figure, I cried again. Noelle wasn’t a best friend of mine, but she was my friend (she and I worked together from 2006-2008 at A&M). This tribute you wrote is absolutely beautiful. I knew Noelle had a big heart, but I didn’t know just how big. I cannot thank you enough for sharing this.