Today, I’d like to introduce you to someone.
This is Miss Debbie. She’s actually Mrs. Debbie Austin, but “Mrs.” is too many syllables to use in America, so we call her Miss Debbie. And also because she looks like she’s 18.
Debbie is my pastor’s wife. I met her 15 years ago, when my husband and I moved to Midland, Texas to be foster parents at a group home. We were in our early twenties. And meeting the Austins changed our lives.
I don’t say that lightly.
Here’s just a few of the things I learned from Miss Debbie:
1. You can love God and still be cute.
It’s true. I guess I came to the church world at a time when it was considered a badge of virtue to look plain. When I was younger we attended a church where holiness was determined by the length of your hair and skirts, and then when I was older the ladies I was around seemed to think it was perhaps “too worldly” to pay attention to the way you dressed or did your hair. I could post pictures, but I think I’ll let the guilty go unviewed.
Miss Debbie was cute (and is still the prettiest lady at church, as you can see.) Blonde and pretty and a jogger and always wearing something *I* wanted to wear. A mom of two young teens and a college student at the time, she was definitely the most beautiful church lady I’d ever known.
You might think that’s not a big deal. I’d argue that it is. She made Christianity practically attractive. Seriously, this woman has probably led more women to Christ at the nail salon than most people do anywhere in the total of their lifetime.
The thing is, pretty matters to most of us. We are *wired* that way! Women have an inborn desire for beauty. It mattered a lot to me. She taught me that paying attention to the way we look actually honors God because we’re taking care of the bodies He gave to us.
If you’re having issues with makeup/clothes/jewelry, by the way, check out the description of the tabernacle in Exodus 25, and also Ezekiel 16:8-15 …
“I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth…”
God likes pretty, too.
2. You can enjoy being a pastor’s wife. She was the first wife I knew well who did. It’s a sad fact, but a true one. While so many others had seemed to begrudge their lot, and wish they could be/do something else; to infer by their attitudes that being a pastor’s wife was a great burden, Miss Debbie loved church as much as Pastor Russ did and does.
She made everyone else love it, too.
3. Young people are important. With a church of maybe 700-800 people at the time, Friday nights found every 17-25 year old who happened to come within the reach of their gravitational pull sitting in the Austin’s living room, listening to Pastor Russ and Debbie teach the Bible. We were foster parents at the time, barely older than most of the kids we were “parenting,” and we took them over there every week–and stayed! Who’d want to leave? It was the most fun place in town. People hung around forever afterward, lingering over food in her kitchen. I’m sure we left mud on the floor and empty bags of chips everywhere, and there were probably other things they could have been doing. But we got the distinct feeling that they’d honestly rather be with us. And that was amazing.
4. Normal people homeschool. After having a less-than-ideal experience with her oldest daughter in a Christian high school, she homeschooled the next two. Of course this was a big influence on many in our church, which meant there were a lot of normal people homeschooling, and made it a much more powerful option than it had been to me in the past. I definitely wanted my boys to be as in love with God as hers were, and I knew much of that was attributable to the fact that they were encompassed by their family’s values more than the world’s cultural pressures.
5. A difficult past doesn’t mean a rotten future. She didn’t grow up in a Christ-honoring home, and yet she created one. While poverty was the atmosphere of her childhood, she put God’s principles into place and lived her life to honor Him, and He has rewarded her family over and over in a multiplicity of ways. A tough past is not an automatic ticket *nor an excuse* for a tough present. We need to “put our behinds in our past,” as Pumbaa would say. We have to forgive those who’ve wronged us in order to be free to move ahead in the present. And we can — and should — give our children more than we were ever given. Today, as her children serve with her in ministry with beautiful families of their own, she’s walking proof of this point. Amazing.
6. Having children doesn’t mean the end of ministry. At the time we met them, we had a four year old and a two year old. We couldn’t stand to miss anything that was happening, but being new to the area meant we had no babysitters. Many times, we just brought them along. When our third was born, I’d stick him in a baby wrap. He came to every youth/college event they had in his first year, and I remember Miss Debbie smiling and saying, “You remind me of us! We always just took our kids everywhere!”
I wanted to kiss her when she said that.
She’s fond of an A.W. Tozer quote that I’ve heard her say so many times that I know it by memory and use it myself …
“God is preparing His heroes. And the time will come when they will be revealed, and the world will wonder where they came from.”
Is that wonderful, or what? I know where a lot of them will come from … anywhere the Austins have had an influence.
7. Excellence is a worthy goal. Everything she has her hand in is done well, from soup to nuts, music to presentation, offering to altar call. She taught me that if we’re doing something for the Lord, it should all honor Him (see #1). While I was used to things being done a bit haphazardly, as if since it’s “just church” it didn’t really need to be done WELL, I soon learned this was not the case at her church. That was a good thing.
8. Fun is a worship word. Some of the most wonderful, fun times in my life have been with Pastor Russ and Miss Debbie. Singing at church, dancing at parties, coffee at Starbucks, even walks around the grocery store are turned into fun when we’re with them. Get she and my husband together in church and you’re in big trouble, because they will talk, whether they should be talking or not! God made us to enjoy fun, and life should be full of it. If God’s people aren’t full of joy, who will be?
When I was 27, I used to tell Miss Debbie, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you.” Fifteen years later, I still do.
Here’s a podcast link where you can listen to her most recent message: Celebrating Womanhood :: A Renaissance of Biblical Femininity.
Who are you influencing today? Ask the Lord to show you who you could have a positive influence on. And share your stories of inspiring women, too!