I was 15 years old when a family friend gave me Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity.
Besides the practical help it gave me, I was completely drawn into the story of her and Jim Elliot’s courtship. Her description of Jim put a picture in my mind that shaped my expectation of a future husband. Six years later when my husband Matt and I were engaged, I eagerly read Let Me Be a Woman, a book written for Elisabeth’s daughter Valerie when Valerie was engaged to be married. My husband is grateful I read it and let it affect my thinking and practice as a wife.
In my early years of marriage when Matt was in seminary and our leisure time was devoted to reading, I devoured A Chance to Die, the story of Elisabeth’s own hero Amy Carmichael. Besides being challenged by Amy’s exemplary life, I was encouraged that my hero had a hero. Not long after this I found a copy of The Shaping of a Christian Family at a resale bookshop. Again I was struck by the practical help found in this book, but was also drawn into the compelling story of her own childhood. I didn’t have any children at the time, but was hoping this season was just ahead. The book meant so much to me that I decided to tell her in a letter how formative her books and ministry had been in my life. I told her she was my Amy Carmichael, my spiritual hero and godly example.
I didn’t expect a reply. Well, perhaps I hoped for one. When a plump package did arrive from Magnolia, MA, my heart caught in my throat. With wide eyes I turned to my husband, “Matt…I think this is from Elisabeth Elliot!” When I opened it I found a signed copy of her book Love Has a Price Tag with a handwritten note to my husband and I that felt like a blessing on our marriage. A “Ramblings from the Cove” newsletter was also included, and at the bottom I saw it: a type-written personal note to me. It was more than I could ask for or imagine. I still treasure these gifts.
Six years ago when my first child, Grace Elisabeth, was two weeks old the phone rang in our tiny apartment in Fort Worth. “Hello, is this Sarah Pitts? This is Lars Gren.” I stood, open-mouthed in the kitchen. My hero’s husband was calling me. He had looked us up in the phone book presumably, since my letter had not included a phone number. “Elisabeth and I will be in Dallas for a meeting and wondered if you wanted to meet her.” And like the overwhelmed, sleep deprived, first-time new mother I was, I said no. I had not adjusted yet to parenthood, and the thought of driving across the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex with my teeny baby in tow was too overwhelming. I told him thank you, thank you SO much, but I have a two week old baby girl so I don’t think I can. But please tell your wife that my daughter’s name is Grace Elisabeth. After her.
His response? “Well, what if we drive to you?” And they did.
The time Mr. and Mrs. Gren spent at our tiny apartment was brief, but precious. She was quiet, graceful, and lovely. Lars was outgoing, kind, and chatty. My husband was working multiple jobs and couldn’t be there, but my mother-in-law had come to help me host, and she bought some of her books, and Lars gave me some audio recordings of talks his wife had given years ago. The best moment was when my spiritual hero held my newborn like the seasoned grandmother she was, and smiled down at her little namesake. I tried not to babble, or fawn, but to be a good hostess to these honored guests.
After they left, I sat down in amazement at this surreal thing that had happened to me, me so undeserving. I was humbled that they would take the time to drive all that way to our little apartment, go to such trouble, all to be a blessing to my family. Even in their golden years, they extended themselves and poured themselves out for others. For me. They demonstrated Christ’s love and service to me that day.
As I’ve shared this story over the last few years, people have remarked on the fact that she didn’t say much during the visit. But for years she had spoken to me through her books. She taught me how to love the Savior, how to die to myself, how to love my husband and children, how to do the next thing. To borrow a phrase from her, she “showed me the shape of godliness.” And during a brief and lovely visit, she held my baby daughter and smiled at her, and for that I will forever be grateful.
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