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        Life of Elisabeth Elliot

 

All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “Love has a Price Tag,” published in 1979.

 

On the wall of my study is a picture of 19 people in the backyard of an old Philadelphia house. The men stand at the back wearing high stiff collars and short lapels, their hair parted in the middle. The women, wearing long, heavy skirts and fancy shirtwaists, sit with shoulders straight and hands at rest. In their midst is an old patriarch with a long beard. On an Oriental rug spread on the grass sit three boys. The smallest of the boys is my father at two years of age. He is wearing a suit with short pants, black stockings, high buttoned shoes and an expression of consternation.

This was the Trumbull family. As I look at the picture I am aware of how much has been given and how much will yet be required of me. I also realize that it should not surprise me that I am a writer. There are five writers in the picture---the patriarch himself, my great-grandfather, Henry Clay Trumbull, who was a chaplain in the Civil War and wrote many books; his son, Charles Gallaudet Trumbull, who wrote a booklet called "The Life That Wins" which sold millions of copies; his son-in-law, Samuel Scoville, a newspaper columnist, naturalist and writer of many boys' books; another son-in-law, Philip E. Howard, my grandfather; and his son, Philip E. Howard, Jr., my father. In addition to writing books and articles, all but Scoville worked on the Sunday School Times, a nondenominational weekly. My father followed his Uncle Charlie as editor, and my early recollection is of his striding up Washington Lane from the railroad station in Germantown, a suburb of Philadelphia, carrying a briefcase full of manuscripts that he read in the evenings.

My father kept a dictionary close to the dining room table so that when questions about the meaning and pronunciation of words arose in conversation we could settle them at once. Proper English was required at all times regardless of what we children might be used to hearing from our schoolmates. Although he never wrote anything but the clearest, most straightforward, scripturally-oriented non-fiction, he had a novelist's eye and ear. He noticed things. He would remember the color of the socks of a visitor in his office, or the shape of a dinner guest's thumbs. He could quote exactly what people had said to him and describe with exquisite precision a street scene observed on his way to work. He was an amateur ornithologist and although he had only one eye because of a childhood accident, he could see birds it would take us who had two eyes five minutes to find. He taught us to notice things and to articulate what we saw. For a few years we put out a family newspaper, Chirps from Birdsong (Birdsong was the name of our New Jersey house), which he edited and to which we contributed. He would ask for a poem, a story, a news item or a cartoon from different members of the family, and of course it was an invitation we could not decline. My earliest published works appeared in Chirps.

There were six of us children, spread over a period of 16 years, but the oldest three of us remember the Depression [[Elisabeth was born in 1927]. My father earned something in the neighborhood of $2,500 a year. We lived in a "double" house in what is now a slum area of Germantown with a pocket-handkerchief-size yard that seemed to produce hairpins and pearl buttons more readily than grass. We did not know that we were poor, for in those days the doorbell was often rung by peddlers selling shoelaces, needles and thread or clothesline props. My mother told us not to buy anything but just to give them a dime from the tithe box. My parents were strict tithers, and the box of dimes in the living room table drawer was a portion of the money given to God. Because we were always in the position of givers, we thought we were well off. Treats, however, were very few and therefore very much more appreciated than they seem to be by children today. A Milky Way had to go around for all of us, and I don't suppose we had more than two a year. Saturday afternoon walks at Thomas's Place, a section of Fairmount Park, were special treats when my father would show us birds, imitate their calls, identify ferns and wildflowers, and, best of all, mysteriously "find" Saltines for us in the hollow trunks of trees or behind rocks.

One Valentine's Day Mother put a tiny paper cup filled with red cinnamon candy hearts by our places at the lunch table. Just before Easter I came home from kindergarten to find a purple-dyed chick peep-peeping in a carton by the heat register in my bedroom. On the morning after my father's return from leading a tour to Palestine for the Sunday School Times I awoke to find a carved olive wood donkey on the chair by my bed. These surprises were highlights of my childhood because they were, of necessity, rare. The gratitude thus learned is a lasting blessing perhaps often missed by those who "have everything."

In our neighborhood there were 42 boys and only one girl besides myself. I steered clear of her because our family regarded her family's religion as highly dangerous. She steered clear of me because she had a tyrannical grandfather who shouted at her as soon as she got out of sight. Occasionally I was allowed to play with the boys, my brothers among them, or to join their sled-wagon trains careening down McCallum Street hill, but I spend a good deal of time alone.

I was excessively shy, partly because I was always very tall for my age. In an elegant hotel lobby in Atlantic City one day a little girl raced across the room to ask me how old I was. My mortification was complete when she raced back again shrieking, "Granny, Granny, that great big girl over there is only seven years old!" On visits to my father's office I dreaded people's saying, "Why, how you've grown! Soon you'll be just like your father!" He was 6'3".

My parents were highly disciplined. My father would rise at 4:30 or 5:00 A.M. to read the Bible and pray for us. My mother kept an immaculate house, served meals on time and prayed with each child at bedtime. Their habitual discipline of themselves enabled them also to discipline us. We recognized that they were always in charge. Rules were not negotiable. Our opinions were not polled. This was their house, and as long as we lived in it we knew we were expected to do things their way.

My mother kept a small switch handy in each room, usually on the lintel of the door. Any disobedience could be quickly corrected---often by the mere raising of her eyes to the top of the door.

We had family devotions not once but twice daily. These included hymn singing, Bible reading and prayer. We were encouraged to study the Bible for ourselves and practice private devotion. We went to church, Sunday school, young people's meetings and missionary meetings---whatever was going on at the church. We read missionary books and we entertained missionaries in our home. My parents had been missionaries for five years in Belgium, where I was born. (We came back to the United States when I was five months old.)

Not long ago, after a meeting in which I had described my home life, a man wrote to me, "I'm sure glad I'm not your brother. I could never have taken that kind of rigidity." I had failed to mention the fun we had. My father would tell stories till the tears of laughter rolled down my mother's face. We children enjoyed them and enjoyed one another. It was a happy home. We knew we were loved, we knew the Lord was the head of our house, we knew where the lines were drawn, we were safe. I am sure that to understand God's chastening as a necessity of His love has been easier for me, coming from such a home, than it would be for one who has known only that feeble human sentiment called love to which discipline is opposed.

When any of us complained of jobs we were asked to do or of conditions not to our liking, another would be sure to remind us that this was "G. M. T." (Good Missionary Training). It was taken for granted that even if we did not become foreign missionaries, we needed the same rigorous training. As it turned out, four of the six have been foreign missionaries.

When my father was promoted to editor on the death of his uncle, there was enough money to allow me to attend a private Christian boarding school. It was there that the things I had been taught at home began to come into focus. Sometimes one has "ears to hear" (Deut. 29:4) from outsiders the home truths he has heard all his life but to which his ears were closed: "Don't go around with a Bible under your arm if you can't sweep under your bed." "What you are now is what you are. It's those tiny little things in your life which, if you don't correct them now, will crack you up when you get out of this school." I was encouraged to write---poetry for special occasions, copy for the school paper and yearbook, speeches and readings. I was required to get up on a platform and give monologues and declamations and to participate in formal debates. I began to try to think things through, to clarify alternatives and to shape ideas into words.

I graduated from that school with most of the available honors. I was among other things valedictorian-of a class of 10. At Wheaton College I was a very small frog in a very big puddle, but I managed to keep on writing from time to time. I was a cub reporter on the college newspaper and I joined a writers' club. I remember attending only one meeting. Each of us read something to be publicly criticized, and the judgment of my offering---a poem, I think it was---was so devastating I am not sure I ever went back. I managed to work my way up to the varsity debate squad, dealing with scintillating subjects such as free trade and compulsory arbitration. My colleague was Liz Rice, one of the five long-haired daughters of John R. Rice, author of Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers. We had our shining hour in 1947 when we won some sort of a debate championship in a Minnesota tournament. I quit while I was ahead and joined the glee club. Because of the traveling required, debating and singing did not mix.

One week before I graduated, a junior from Oregon named Jim Elliot, who had been sitting beside me in Greek classes and studying Thucydides with me in the hall outside the library, got around to admitting that he was in love with me. Marriage, however, was not a possibility, it seemed. He was convinced that God wanted him to be single like the apostle Paul, at least until he had been in jungle missionary work for long enough to determine whether a wife would be a liability or an asset. It was five and a half years before we got a green light from God to be married [on October 8, 1953, she was twenty-six], five and a half years of learning to trust Him with what matters most, of walking by faith and not by sight, of believing the promise of Psalm 84: "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly" (v. 11).

During that interval I studied linguistics at the University of Oklahoma, took a year of Bible school, worked as a home missionary in Alberta for a summer, got a job as a clerk in a fancy women's specialty shop in Philadelphia, tutored two missionary kids in New Jersey, taught public speaking in a high school, spent a few months living in a cheap apartment in Brooklyn while I tried to learn some Spanish from Puerto Ricans, and at last found myself in Quito, Ecuador, learning Spanish by living in a home were no English was spoken. After six months in Quito and nine months in the west jungle working on a tribal language which had never before been written down, I went to the "Oriente," the east jungle, to learn yet another language. Jim Elliot was working with Quichuas, and had asked me to marry him---"but not until you learn Quichua," he added. My motivation was powerful. I learned it---at least well enough to get by---and we were married by the equivalent of a justice of the peace in the capital city. Jim was not much for ceremony of any kind, having grown up in a Plymouth Brethren family, so we agreed that we could do without the fuss of a wedding, especially since we had neither family nor close friends to share it with us.

"Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him" (Isaiah 25:9) was the verse given us on our wedding day. We could not have waited in peace had we known that our marriage would last only 27 months. But God gives us our "daily bread" (Matt. 6:11; Luke 11:3), enough grace for a day at a time. When Jim died in January of 1956 the grace was there. He had gone with four missionary friends to take the gospel to a tribe called Auca, but they were taken for cannibals and speared to death.

Books were asked for then. The whole world was interested in that story, and that is how I began to write. I was a missionary before I married Jim and there was no reason to stop being a missionary when he died. I went ahead with the work we had been doing in the Quichua tribe, fitting in the writing whenever I could find the time. An opportunity came to go and live with the Aucas---I had "asked for it," I had prayed, "Lord, if there's anything you want me to do about them, show me, I'm yours," and He took me up on it. Of course I did not really expect Him to. I was a widow with a 10-month-old child. What could I do that five men did not do? But we went. Rachel Saint, the sister of one of the missionaries killed, went too. After two years in an Auca settlement Valerie and I went back to the Quichuas, then returned to the United States for her schooling when she reached fourth grade.

The miracle that could never happen happened in 1969 when I remarried [Elisabeth was forty-two and Addison was sixty]. I had thought it was a miracle to marry the first time. To imagine a second was beyond me. Addison Leitch was a college professor and writer, a man of great good humor and intelligence, though he rejected the name of scholar. "I'm a pointer and an explainer" was his claim. "It's my job to say `Do you see this? Do you know what it means?"' He took a position teaching theology at Gordon-Cornwell Seminary in Massachusetts. We both wrote books and articles and sometimes even took speaking engagements as a team. When asked what he liked to do in his spare time, Add said "Curl up with a good author!" Writing was recreation for Add. He found it difficult to imagine how I could labor so arduously over my Christian Herald column every other month. I would spend days on it. For the column he wrote for Christianity Today he would set aside a morning, sit down in any easy chair, dictate it into a machine and have a secretary transcribe it. Rarely did he alter a word. His last book, This Cup, was on suffering. Not long after it appeared he found he had cancer. We had 10 months left before he died, 10 months of medical test and treatments, of prayers and anointings, and hopes kindled and extinguished.[Addison died in September 1973]

Four more years of widowhood followed and then the third miracle---Lars Gren, a former salesman who in middle life decided that was not the way he wanted to spend the rest of it, and came to seminary to prepare for Christian service. If ever there was a one-man woman I thought it was I, but each milestone of my life has entailed the breaking up of categories. A third husband, Lord? I couldn't believe this was what God meant, but the Lord knows how to get through to us when we honestly want to know what He wants. As I prayed and pondered the decision, the Holy Spirit brought to my attention the words: Men have different gifts, but it is the same Lord who accomplishes His purposes through them all (see 1 Cor. 12). Gradually it became perfectly clear that Lars was a part of God's purpose for me. He was a gift God had been trying to give me, but it took awhile to get my attention and to shuffle my categories again from widow to wife, from saying "I" to saying "we." We were married in 1977.

The whole purpose of life, I believe, is to learn to know God. "This is life eternal," John wrote, "that they might know thee" (17:3). In each of the "crises" of my own life I have looked for God's meaning, and have sought to learn of him. A prayer given to me by my grandfather Howard, written by Phillips Brooks, has become a part of the fabric of all my prayers:

 

O Lord, by all they dealings with us, whether of joy or pain, of light or darkness, let us be brought to thee. Let us value no treatment of thy grace simply because it makes us happy or because it makes us sad, because it gives us or denies us what we want; but may all that thou sendest us bring us to thee, that, knowing thy perfectness, we may be sure in every disappointment that thou art still loving us, and in every darkness that thou are still enlightening us, and in every enforced idleness that thou art still using us; yea, in every death that thou art still giving life, as in his death thou didst give life to thy Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I believe God answers prayer. He is answering this prayer. But He is not finished. He is bringing me with patience and gentleness to Himself. Jesus promised that to the man who loves and obeys, the Father will make Himself known. The essays in this book spring from the incidents of everyday life and my effort to answer Add's questions: Do you see this? Do you know what it means? I try to see things clearly. I ask God to show me what He sees in them. I seek His meaning, for in the last analysis true spiritual understanding is not an achievement of the intellect but the divine reward for love and obedience. And, though unconditional love has a price tag, what a bargain price it is for such a reward. "Then my Father will love him, and we will come to that man and make our home within him" (John 14:23, Phillips). [7-20]

 

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