Meet Desiree Hillhouse: Leader + Fire Igniter
Desiree Hillhouse has been a Ministry Events Coordinator at her home church (Lakewood Church) in Houston, TX for the past six years. She also serves as a Lay Minister in their Women’s Ministry, and also leads a monthly women's gathering in her local community. She is passionate about empowering women as well as bringing restoration and hope to the hurting. Due to her personal life experience she has a heart for the orphaned and a hope to let everyone know how much they are loved. She desires to share the gospel of Christ as much as she's capable.
For those people who may not know you, could you start off by letting others know who you are and what makes you smile? Who is Desiree?
That’s a tough question I feel like I’m daily finding that out. To be honest I don’t think I fully know all of who I am just yet. The longer I journey in life, the more I discover about myself. What I know for certain though is I’m just an ordinary girl who gets to belong to an extraordinary God.
As for what makes me smile, it really doesn’t take much. I’m always smiling. I enjoy first sips of a good cup of coffee, laughs with friends, a good read, playing around with the kiddos, meeting new people and hearing their stories.
You have such an amazing testimony, so let's dive in. Tell us a little bit about your childhood and what life looked like growing up for you?
I used to think my childhood was a unique one. Now that I've been in ministry and have had the opportunity to serve in the mission field, I'm more aware how sadly common it is.
When I was seven years old, my mother and stepfather were arrested. I was taken by Child Protective Services and placed in a shelter. Living in the shelter, I felt so alone, unwanted, and unloved. The shelter I was at consisted of five red trailers filled with bunk beds; many children were left abused, abandoned, or neglected by their parents and relatives. Later I was transferred into a foster home for about a year. When my biological father was located – and after many supervised visits – I was released into his custody.
Growing up, I felt as if everything was always changing. My life felt unstable like nothing was forever. I had moved eight times by the time I was in seventh grade. Then the summer of my eighth grade year, due to unfortunate circumstances, my father left. Again I felt the pain of rejection and abandonment. Negative thoughts would tell me I was alone, unwanted, and helpless.
There have been so many things I struggle with in my life such as fear, doubt, insecurity, and depression. Due to my past I felt worthless, hopeless, helpless, and insignificant. I was lost and I carried around so much shame for years.
You've had to overcome many challenges in your life. Could you share about the weeks leading up to when your friend invited you to church for the very first time? How did that come about? Describe your first experience.
I hit the books hard and was able to graduate at the age of sixteen. When I was seventeen, I moved out on my own and was working as a retail manager in the mall where I lived. At work, I would hear one of our employees talk about her church. I wanted to ask her if I could come but I was too afraid. Even though I was sure I could go with her anytime, I had this preconceived idea that church was for perfect people....people who were happy, with their lives all in order, and their finances together. I knew that I wasn't even close to perfect. In fact I knew I was broken.
One night I came home from work, and fell on the floor exhausted from working so much. I felt like I had been trying my best but I still didn't have enough money for furniture or even food most days. I was so empty and unhappy. I didn’t understand why life was just so unfair. So in my broken self-pity moment, I texted my co-worker, "Hey, do you think I could come to church with you?"
When I first went to church, I was fearful that everyone would be able to tell what I was carrying in with me. Voices bombarded my mind saying, "You don't belong here," "You don't deserve to be here," and "You'll never fit it." Thankfully everyone was really friendly and being around people who seemed to accept me was very freeing.
I started to hear the truth of how much I actually am loved. I began to realize I wasn't alone and I could have a different future.
After experiencing church and finding jesus, what did life look like for you afterward? Did your life change? Tell us more about that.
At first it wasn’t necessarily my life that changed...it was more so that I began to change, then my life followed after me.
I remember going to church one day seeing everyone smiling with so much joy, and I just didn't get it. All of a sudden during worship I was smiling and I had joy! I still didn't understand! How could I be smiling? My past was the same, my circumstances hadn't changed, and I was still going home to an empty apartment. Somehow something inside me was changing. I had hope, real hope.
Realizing the love of God for me, I began to love others more. Realizing the freedom I had been given, I learned to forgive others more. I began volunteering at my church and joined a life group to get more connected.
One year later I was at a gathering with a few of my new friends. I had no idea, but many staff leaders at the church were attending the gathering that night. The next day I received a phone call, and apparently they thought it would be nice if I joined the staff. It truly was a God ordained moment and my life has never been the same.
God has sure used you in a big way! now you are a leader at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. But has there been a time where you didn't think you were qualified? if so, How have you overcome those thoughts and walked it out?
Absolutely! I’ve felt rejected my whole life, and shame left me with many insecurities of feeling unqualified. I’ve always told myself the lie that I’m not good enough.
I’ve be given the opportunity to speak for almost 3 years now. I've got opportunities to share at women’s ministries, middle school ministries, public high schools, in Spanish youth groups, out of state, and even out of the country. Guess what? I’ve done it all completely afraid every single time!
I can tend to be shy, don’t like large crowds, and defiantly hate being the center of attention. So naturally, being a speaker is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been able to overcome much of my fears and doubt by always remembering why I’m doing it.
I remember when I was younger feeling so alone needing someone’s help. There were many times I would cry and wish someone would come for me or help me. Now it’s what drives me. It’s what outweighs the fear. Now that I'm on the other side, I get to be the person someone else is hoping for, and encourage them. I've made a promise to myself that I would always stop for the one. I will always say yes no matter how hard or fearful.
What's next for Desiree? Share some of your life dreams with us.
Now there’s an answer you and I would both love to know! Most of who I am and what I get to do now has been a total surprise to me! I never thought I would be in ministry, let alone be a leader and speaker!
Through this journey I've been on with God, I've come to realize that God is always so many steps in front of me. He has all the plans for my future and designs each day with purpose and destiny in mind.
I remember I was speaking for youth group in Santa Fe, New Mexico, about a year ago. After the service a young girl approached me; it was her first time coming to church. She told me she felt like the message I spoke was just for her. In that moment, I thought in my heart if God had sent me there just for this little girl. She was such a beautifully sweet girl, and shared her hurts with me. I knew in my heart, just like He had done for me, He was about to transform her too. Then she thanked me for giving her hope. I thought, God, if everything was all for this moment, I'm okay with that. I went back to my room that night and cried my eyes out. I never thought I would be at peace with all I’ve seen and been through in my life but now that I get to do what I get to do today I am.
So my dream would be to keep saying yes to whatever He has planned. I would love to stay in ministry and continue to spread hope around the world. I'd also like to write and publish books in the future to continue to bring healing to women and children. It would be a gift to help build a Christian biased orphanage in the states and adopt a few children of my own as well. I'm a big dreamer. I’m one of those crazy people who believe anything is possible and I love it.
Who have been your biggest mentors in life and what would you like to say to them?
I would have to say my leaders and Pastors at my church. I have the most incredible people I get to do life with that I guess you could consider mentors. Over the years, most of my mentorships have turned into great friendships. I’m so thankful for the people I’ve been able to have in my life – honestly I’m beyond blessed!
I would say to them, "Thank you!" Thank you for selflessly investing into me, for speaking hope into my life, guiding me through some difficult sessions and helping shape me into the woman I am today.
What encouraging words would you share with other women who are currently pursuing their dreams?
Celebrate the small victories along the way. I’m not nearly the woman I want to be, and haven't accomplished much of what I had hoped for at this point. I've learned celebrating my small steps helps keep me motivated and also away from getting discouraged. Pursing your dreams will be hard sometimes, so make sure you get around people who are going to encourage, motivate and inspire you!
Thanks for much for taking the time to read today's feature story. I truly believe it was a divine appointment when I met Desiree last June in Houston Texas. We connected right away, and it was like I had known her for years. Recently I reached out to her and asked if I could share her story, because I know how powerful it can be when we share our unique journeys. We all have experienced a different path, we all go through challenges, so to hear how a person got to where they are now – that is truly profound. I hope her story and words touched you today, and encouraged you to continue pursuing your dreams.
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