“NO!” I screamed. “NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!”
Reality showed no mercy. The impersonal screen of my iphone delivered the news that my dear friend and beloved mentor Elisabeth Elliot was with Jesus. Over the last decade, I made attempts to prepare myself for this moment. Not even close. My world was now a world without her, and of all things, I learned this on Facebook. No warning, no cushion, and no “I’m sorry I have to tell you this…”
I immediately dialed their number to Strawberry Cove. Aware of a deep ache inside of me, I wanted desperately to talk to Lars, her husband of 38 years. I wanted to hear his rich velvety voice. He would provide the personal touch missing from a cold social media announcement.
No, again. The answering machine clicked and waited for my message. Ache and emptiness were gaining a foothold here, and I needed to be alone with God.
Climbing the three flights of stairs to my corner office in our Athletes in Action headquarters, I stared out the window at the lovely grounds below. Sunshine and beautiful flowers met my gaze. Gone. With only the silence to distract me, I prayed, “Oh God, I worship You. I worship You for the incredible ministry she had in my life.”
I sat down, and I began to remember.
I met her publically, and then grew to know her privately. She was one remarkable lady. What an unspeakable privilege to have known her. She was my mentor; she was my friend.
Soft-spoken and precise, she never wavered when it came to the choice of obedience to the Lord. No, she was not a saint, but she was certainly set apart to mark a generation with her wholehearted devotion to Christ.
I experienced her clarity mixed with kindness over our first shared meal. She and Lars had flown to Garmisch, Germany where she was guest speaker for our annual women’s conference. I made sure to take advantage of the opportunity to reserve a private meal with her. Over dinner, surrounded by a cacophony of noises, I ventured to ask, “May I call you Elisabeth?” There was no mistaking her answer, “Yes, but thank you for asking.” Whew.
Now that we were on a first-name basis, the real question weighing heavily on the soul of this young wife of a leader tumbled out. I suddenly became remarkably vulnerable with this woman I had just met.
“What do you do with criticism of your husband?” Without batting an eye, she went straight to the point with p r e c i s e l y the answer I needed to hear.
“Well. First of all, certainly no one likes it.” Shock. Had I heard her correctly? Heaven and earth stood still as my soul came up for air.
No being made to feel guilty for struggling-
No quick-fix verse-
No vague spiritual airs-
No sermon or suggestion-
Just a true, forthright transparency. “No one likes it.” With that response we bonded; a treasured friendship was birthed. Elisabeth and I launched into a lifetime that would leave me forever changed by her wisdom and uncommon understanding.
Honestly, I was not prepared to like her so much. But a single answer from her changed my life. I immediately knew that I could trust her; I could learn from her; I could really like her.
Over apfel strudel and coffee, I listened intently as she shed more Divine Light on my painful question. “Remember, God has given him a grace to bear this criticism. You do not have the same grace that he has, but God has given him grace for the criticism. Also, remember, there is probably a grain of truth within that he needs to hear. Allow God to use this in your husband's life.”
Repeatedly, I have returned to the teaching at a table at the foot of the Alps, instruction that truly changed my life. Thank You God; thank you, Elisabeth. In the coming years, I would turn to her with countless other questions. The story was always the same-unconditional acceptance and grace-filled wisdom. That was the sweet beginning.
I remember her gentleness with our children. As we visited on other hallowed occasions around our dining room table, she treated them as if they were her own grandchildren. Their questions were handled with tenderness and respect. I smile to reflect on the discussions.
“What was your favorite animal in the jungle?”
“Why do you use one name with your books and another with your husband, Mr. Gren?”
“When you are a writer, it is important that your readers who knew you in the past can trust you to be the same person in the present. You don’t want to confuse them with different names.”
“What was the strangest thing you ever ate in the jungle?”
Laughter followed, of course.
Elisabeth and I would go on to journey together in the coming years, mostly at a distance, but intersecting lives when geography allowed. She remained consistent: uncompromising obedience, crystal clear clarity. I’m sure that today, countless tributes are already pouring in. Mine is just one, one testimony of one life that was changed. Forever.
Goodbye Elisabeth. I will miss you, remember you, and look forward to joining you in The Land That Is Fairer Than Day, where at The Marriage Feast of the Lamb, we will enjoy far more than apfel strudel and coffee.
Elisabeth Elliot left this life with the very same crystal-clear clarity with which she had lived it; at 6:15 am on 6:15:15 she departed. Imagine that.
Today, on the one year anniversary of her Homegoing, I pay her Tribute.