Stories of Faith
STORIES OF FAITH: A LIFE OF TRUSTING IN THE LORD
Through life’s ups and downs, God has always been by Debbie Gill’s side
Special to FBC Jenks
August 10th, 2023
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6
It was the final month of her senior year of high school at Tulsa Webster and Debbie Gill had spent the previous four years joining leadership groups and taking the hardest classes to give herself the best chance to earn a scholarship, so she could go to college.
The dean at Webster High School called Debbie into his office and told her, “with your resume, you’re going to be flooded with scholarship offers, so I’m taking your name off the list for the local scholarships, so others will have a chance”.
Debbie was crushed. She knew that even with the scholarships she had received so far, they weren’t enough to pay for college.
“I remember going home and saying to myself, that’s it. I have done all I could,” Debbie said. And that was true. She had. But God hadn’t.
At that time, every high school in Tulsa Public Schools selected a Girl of the Year and Debbie was selected to represent Webster. As Webster’s representative, she was invited to a dinner given for all the TPS Girl of the Year honorees. However, the recent talk with the dean left her feeling discouraged.
“I was pretty deflated, so I wasn’t going to go. But my mom brought the telephone back to my bedroom where I was pouting and told me a lady wanted to speak with me,” Debbie said. “The lady encouraged me to attend the dinner. I declined. She persisted and eventually convinced me to go.”
Towards the end of the dinner, one final announcement was to be made: Tulsa Girl of the Year. Debbie was selected for that honor that year, the first time a Webster representative had received it. Along with the title, came additional scholarship money, enough to allow Debbie to attend Oklahoma State University the following academic year.
“I just remember tearing up with tears of joy,” Debbie said.
“I was 17 and acutely aware of God’s presence throughout the process. More than the monetary gift was the gift to a young teen that God really IS in control and is ALWAYS with me. I confidently entered college knowing that.”
Debbie had been saved when she was just 8 years old at Carbondale Baptist Church where she attended with her family. Her parents were heavily involved with the church and from the time she was young, God was a big part of her life. She was just beginning to learn how big.
Following the decision of where to go to college (OSU had been the source of most of the scholarship money) was the decision of what to study. Debbie had grown up with three brothers and a father who were all heavily involved with sports. Naturally, she picked up a love for sports, as well. “Our TV was rarely on something that wasn’t sports-related, so I thought maybe I could go into sports broadcasting.”
However, once again, that was her plan, not God’s. The Journalism dean at Oklahoma State called her into his office her freshman spring semester and bluntly informed her that she had a voice no one would ever listen to. “I laugh at the irony of that when I think of it – how many decades did I spend talking in front of classes?” Apparently, another major was in order.
“She taught me enough about several of the desks in the department so that I became a valued part-time employee because I could keep the position flowing while the individuals went on vacation.” The bank continued to ask her to come back every summer and Christmas break while she was in college, a situation that continued to help her pay for the next semester’s expenses.
“That summer I was blessed to get a job working in the Trust department at National Bank of Tulsa (now BOK). In that department, I made a friend, another girl about my age, who was very sharp and a full-time employee at the bank,” said Debbie.
Due to her success with the bank, Debbie decided to become a business major, a degree plan that requires Accounting. Mid-semester, the professor asked her to come into his office to go over the homework spreadsheets she had submitted. He asked her if she had worked at a bank. “He said every spreadsheet is the mirror image of what it should be,” Debbie said. “He told me my debits are credits and my credits are debits. He then said, while I might be a good vacation help, I didn’t really grasp what was going on with the spreadsheets, so perhaps I should consider another major. In fact, he already had a signed drop slip for me!”
“I knew God had provided the way this far, but now what?” One of Debbie’s favorite subjects had always been English, so she chose to major in English with the idea of going to law school. She never thought seriously about becoming an English teacher, but, at the request of her mother, earned a teaching certificate in conjunction with the degree. She put off student teaching until her final spring semester and “after two weeks of student teaching, I thought to myself, ‘I can get paid for this?’ God was in control of everything along the way,” Debbie said.
Her first teaching position was at Chelsea Public Schools and, after the first semester, decided she wanted to take more education classes. She went to summer and night classes to obtain her Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from OSU and, while there, met a group of teachers from Sapulpa High School. They convinced Debbie to interview for a position there; it was during this time she met her future husband, Tom Gill.
Debbie was attending Eastwood Baptist Church with her college boyfriend, whom she had been dating for several years. Tom was originally from Arkansas, but had moved to Tulsa for work after earning his degree in accounting, and started attending Eastwood Baptist, as well. Both Tom and Debbie taught classes at the church. When Tom learned Debbie was no longer dating her boyfriend, he decided it was time to ask her out.
“I told Tom I needed time alone with God, so Tom said, ‘will you consider yourself asked out and I can just talk to you? I won’t keep asking again and again. We can just get to know each other’. Neither one of us had ever done anything like that, so we’re pretty sure God was guiding us. That lasted about two months. We went on that first date, dated about a year and a half and then he proposed.”
Being an Arkansas native and a Razorback alumnus, Tom wanted to propose to Debbie in Tulsa, but with an Arkansas tie. So he took her out over the Arkansas River on the old pedestrian bridge and popped the question.
“When he asked, my first response was, ‘Are you sure?’ He gave me some scripture he felt the Lord had shown him to convince me. My response then was, ‘Well, if God said yes, I should,” Debbie said, laughing. Tom and Debbie were married in November 1981.
Debbie’s first teaching stint with Sapulpa lasted seven years, ending with the arrival of their first child. The Gills have three children, Katie, Anna and Carter.
She stayed home with the children until Carter was in first grade. She then became an adjunct professor for Tulsa Community College, teaching Freshman Composition.
“I did that until we had two in college, then I decided to go back to work full-time,” Debbie said. “There was an opportunity to return to Sapulpa, so I did that, but continued to teach two nights a week at TCC. During this time period, I learned the Advanced Placement English program and curriculum and taught AP English Literature at SJH.”
She was doing this until she received a call from Jenks Public Schools about an opening at the high school. Jenks was paying a stipend for AP courses taught, about the same amount as what she was earning teaching at TCC. Teaching at Jenks would mean she could drop the night courses. After the first year at Jenks, however, this stipend was stopped. “But God had used it to help me make the move to Jenks, where I taught until retirement in 2020.”
The Gills had continued going to Eastwood until their oldest, Katie, was entering sixth grade and the youth department at church. They decided to attend First Baptist Jenks so their children would be in a youth group that had classmates.
“We felt it was important for her to be in a youth group with people she went with to school and we knew that was where the Lord wanted us,” Debbie said. “Throughout our time at FBC Jenks, I have taught, Tom has taught and we have gotten involved in other ways. We have seen the church grow, but maintain that community feel through small groups.”
Debbie said, while she couldn’t talk about her faith in the classroom, she could always show the love and support that God has for each of us. “God has blessed me so much, not the least of which this opportunity to reflect on just HOW MUCH He has guided me. I am so thankful He guided me to an English teaching career, to an Arkansas husband and a wonderful life full of family and friends. I am so thankful for His never-ending presence with a bigger, better plan than any I could have foreseen.”