What Elisabeth Elliot Told Me

 What Elisabeth Elliot Told Me

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

This week is the fourth anniversary of author Elisabeth Elliot’s entering “through gates of splendor” to her heavenly Home. How well I remember that June morning when her daughter Valerie shared her final moments with me in a phone conversation —  the funeral and burial in Massachusetts; and then when Mike, Val and I visited her grave together one year later (2016) near Boston, singing together “Thine is the Glory…” 

This year the whole world now has new access to the life of this servant, through Valerie Elliot Shepard’s beautiful new book Devotedly  containing previously unpublished letters and journal entries from her parents Elisabeth and Jim. This work of love and diligence is both beautiful and remarkable. Not only is the writing exquisite (which causes me to deeply mourn the almost lost art of letter-writing and journaling) but the thoughts, struggles and commitment of these two young people inspire no end!

I have personally gifted at least a dozen copies of Devotedly this year and will be giving another one to one of YOU, my readers this week. All you have to do is post a comment on this blog and then I will make a random draw on Monday July 1 to someone who will greatly enjoy this hardcover volume, containing lots of photos…    


Lucinda and Elisabeth 1977

            Many years ago when I was studying at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I lived with Elisabeth Elliot as her student lodger. By then she had already written 20 books and was well-known for taking her young daughter, Valerie, to live with Auca Indians in Ecuador – the same ones that had speared her husband, Jim Elliot, and four other missionaries to death. By the time I first heard her speak, at ‘Urbana ’76,’ her second husband, Dr. Addison Leitch, had just died of cancer.

            Though I was a disappointment as a housecleaner (her words, not mine) I did pretty well at my other duties – transcribing Jim Elliot’s journals for her current manuscript (on a typewriter), driving her to the airport for frequent speaking engagements and organizing events in her home. We shared many lively breakfast conversations (yes, we did have differing opinions on a few things), hosted hymn sings and dinner parties, and even shoveled out of the Great Blizzard of ’78. I loved her sense of humor, her stories and enjoyment of parlor games. I don’t remember there being a television in the house at all.

            We were certainly an odd couple – me with my gushy southern type-A personality and her with her reserved New England demeanor and dry wit. But somehow God brought us together in a friendship that lasted 38 years. As I review my journals from that time so long ago I am amazed at how much of my own Life Story and message was shaped by my exposure to Elisabeth’s teachings during that formative season.

            Reading in my journal about a Sunday dinner I cooked for Elisabeth, her mother and sister, and four of my friends, I treasure the notes from that conversation. Jim Glasgow, a seminarian from North Carolina, commented that so many people he admired had gone through great suffering. “Do you feel that’s necessary in order to become a man or woman of God?” he asked Elisabeth.

            That evening I scribbled as much of her answer as I could remember in my journal. “She said ‘yes’ she believed we must know the cross in our own lives — Philippians 3.10 ‘that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death…’ That we must suffer for the Lord even though we don’t seek out the suffering, nor do we have anything to do in choosing the fashion it will take. Sometimes this means allowing ourselves to be joyfully inconvenienced, not seeking our own way, but serving others. Daily prayers for another can be an opportunity of laying down our lives for someone else.”

           I remember her warning us that our generation was not prepared to suffer or even be inconvenienced. I wrote “She pointed out that we must learn discipline and submission to authority in order to better be able to submit more wholly to God. Discipline should be exercised in our daily devotions, in our studies and in our love life. We must become responsible for that with which God has entrusted us now so we can be better prepared for all He has in store for us later.”  Do you remember the very first time you heard such powerful and challenging teaching as a young follower of Christ? I was like a sponge, soaking it all in…

            This particular journal entry (October 30, 1977) closed with my own lament “Oh! How can I remember all she said – it was so profound. I can’t possibly do it justice writing it down here. But there are at least 2 basic things I want to begin putting into practice right now:

  1. Discipline in all areas, but especially my devotions and studies.
  2. Daily seeking ways to ‘suffer’ for God through discipleship and serving others.”

                Today I find myself older than Elisabeth was when I lived with her. I am a seasoned mentor, utterly dependent on God’s mercy through all my life’s experiences, and yes, suffering. I am also, by God’s grace, a person He uses to touch others through my writing and speaking. I still find that remarkable – that the Creator and Sustainer of the universe would choose me to have even a small part in helping to further His kingdom.

            I smile as I read the postcard Elisabeth sent me shortly after she married a third time and moved down to Atlanta while I stayed in her Massachusetts home. I had sent her an article of mine which appeared in the seminary newspaper. “…The parable is very good, I think. Perhaps it would be more effective if a wee shorter in the description of your failure, and a little longer on the remedy. You definitely have a flair for writing. Have you tried to do anything for Christian magazines? Spring is lovely in Georgia, isn’t it? Today I get a NOW hairdo to replace the THEN one….E”

            After my graduation a few years later, Elisabeth spoke strongly into my life concerning God’s call and purpose. “Cindy, God has given you a gift of writing and it is your duty to offer it back to Him.” And so I do.

           EEbook Once Elisabeth told me that each of us is given only about two major themes/messages and that everything we speak and write about flows from that core. As I reflect on her life and international influence through her 30 books, Gateway to Joy radio program and many seminars, the messages that resonate most clearly seem to be:

  • Offering our suffering and circumstances to God, knowing that nothing is wasted – laying it on the altar and asking how we can learn and grow through this.
  • Serving others through the discipline of having a my-life-for-yours attitude every time we pray for someone or encounter a God ordained interruption.

           I don’t know if it is written in any of her books but one of the most powerful things I remember her telling me was “Suffering is having what you don’t want and wanting what you don’t have.”  I’m delighted that her final speaking series Suffering is Never for Nothing has also just been released as a beautiful new book which I highly recommend. 

                        Some years ago Mike and I drove to Boston and took luncheon over to Lars and Elisabeth’s home so that I could say some important things that needed to be said. After all she had told me through the years, I very much needed to tell her what she had meant in my life. This was during her final quiet years and though the conversation was somewhat one-sided, it was precious and special and I was gratified that she seemed to remember me. 

            May I close with the words of a letter Elisabeth Elliot wrote to a very, very young Cindy Secrest back in 1978: “Amy Carmichael of India said ‘all weathers nourish souls.’ It’s true. All situations, all circumstances, all privations and abundances are opportunities to be spiritually nourished – if we respond in faith. This lesson has been laid before me again here. There are things that are not to my liking about the situation, of course. So what! ‘I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content’ (Philippians 4.11). You are dear to me, Cindy. In the will of the Lord we’ll see more of each other. You are in my prayers – keep me in yours, please. Lovingly, Elisabeth”

Who has had an impact on your life that you remember with gratitude today?

What messages of your own life will people remember long after you are gone?

(Be sure and share a comment on this blog to enter my giveaway of Devotedly by Elisabeth’s daughter Valerie Elliot Shepard. I will name the winner on Monday, July 1. Meanwhile, think about your own two or three life messages. And be sure to share them with others.) 

under the mercy, Lucinda

Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping you Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, McDowell is the author of 14 books and contributing author to 30+ books. Her books include the award-winning Dwelling PlacesOrdinary Graces,  Live These Words, Refresh, and the soon-to-be-released Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most. Lucinda, a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, received Mt. Hermon “Writer of the Year” award and guest blogs for The Write Conversation, Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference Blog and (in)courage. Whether co-directing  “reNEW ~ retreat for New England Writing,”  pouring into young mamas, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages. Lucinda’s favorites include tea parties, good books, laughing friends, ancient prayers, country music, cozy quilts, musical theatre, and especially her family scattered around the world doing amazing things.  Known for her ability to convey deep truth in practical and winsome ways, she writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and blogs weekly at http://www.EncouragingWords.net/ 

My newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help any woman make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order HERE for only $10.99 – 30% pre-order special price

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online

About Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Author ~ Storyteller ~ Speaker ~ Teacher "Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength" www.EncouragingWords.net
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57 Responses to What Elisabeth Elliot Told Me

  1. maggierowe says:

    Thanks to you I already have a copy of Val‘s book, but wanted to comment anyway as this post is such a rich description of your interactions with one of the foremost Christian women of our time. How wonderful that God brought you together in life and ministry the way he did!

  2. Jean Wilund says:

    This is such a beautiful testimony and encouragement. She has truly been a powerful voice for trusting the Lord no matter what. I’m convicted by her boldness to share the truth, and her willingness to embrace the suffering that must come and glorify God through it. Thanks for sharing this, Lucinda. I’m so glad you got to enjoy such a special relationship with her and have given us a beautiful glimpse into it. I learn so much from both of you about what it means to be a servant of Christ. Much love! – Jean

  3. Joanne Viola says:

    Thank you for sharing these memories of times spent with such a precious woman of God. Her words still speak and inspire many today. This is a book I will add to my list to read soon. Blessings!

  4. Lillian Morley says:

    Lucinda, This devotional was a true blessing. I remember the incident when the missionaries were killed. I was a teenager but heard of it over the radio and at our Christian & Missionary Alliance church. Both my husband and I have read the book, Through Gates of Splendor, and be touched by it.
    I’ve sent this on to family members, all ladies, so that they can be encourages, too.
    God bless,

  5. mjrenneckar says:

    Cindy, your memories and message are precious. Elizabeth was the speaker at either my 1sr or 2nd Women’s Conference at Mt Herman during our Menlo Park year’s. I was gobsmacked. Thank you for this post. Mary J.

  6. Kiruba Helan Arasu says:

    I’m a huge fan of elisabeth elliot. I’m from India. I have read many of her books. Her Sermons help me a lot. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Jim douglas says:

    I will always remember the Sunday in about 1977 that I showed up at Elizabeth’s house with Cax, when we were dating. I was at Harvard at at the time and Cax had come up to Boston to see me.We had a lovely luncheon that you had likely prepared. At some point after lunch , Elizabeth asked me ( with Cax sitting beside me) if we intended to get married. We were shocked w/ her question. I fumbled through an answer and said something like :maybe …we’re not sure …giving it time.
    Elizabeth responded by saying our generation had it all wrong .Here we were 2 faithful Christians;smart 25-year-olds who seem to care for each other and were from Christian families. What were we waiting for . Go ahead and get married and begin service to God. Whew…she didn’t mince words did she? I will never forget her steady and purposeful demeanor and how she spoke into our lives without wasting words that day.
    While we didn’t get married, I have passed on her advice to my children!

    • Yes Jim. If you read this article, you will remember that I include my journals from that Sunday = those four friends were you, Cax, Jim Glasgow and ? Anyway, I do remember how direct she was. Great to have memories…

      • Jim Douglas says:

        I did read your article. I had forgotten that Jimmy was there too. Seems like her brother David Howard was there too.? When I was at Univ of GA, many of my friends there and at UNC- CH ( you would remember many of them) looked at Jim Elliott as a hero /role model for us. I think we all wanted to find a wife like EE…ha ha…I think we forgot what knuckleheads we were at times!

      • You would find these journals and letters in “Devotedly” fascinating and beautiful in their depth and commitment.

      • You would find these journals and letters fascinating in their depth and commitment.

      • jim douglas says:

        sounds like I would!

  8. Sue Evans says:

    Beautifully written, Lucinda! Your words made me teary-eyed as I read your remembrances of your dear friend, Elisabeth Elliot. Suffering and the Cross have been on my mind for many weeks now and a desire to understand it better.

  9. Sharon Gamble says:

    I, too, have been greatly influenced by Elisabeth Elliott! I went to high school right across the street from where she lived at one time, her brother, Tom Howard, was my advisor at Gordon College, and her mother taught my mother in a Bible Study years ago. Thankful and grateful for how God used this great family to share His truths with so many.

  10. carrieturansky says:

    What wonderful memories! I loved reading more about what you learned from Elisabeth Elliot. I only heard her speak in person one time, but I loved her books and radio programs. I already have a copy of Devotedly and was very touched reading more about Jim and Elisabeth — a very remarkable couple, that’s for sure.

  11. Currie Renwick says:

    What a wonderful tribute to an amazing saint! Thank you so much, Lucinda, for sharing your memories and Elisabeth Elliot’s wise words. I love that phrase”joyful inconvenience “ to describe our serving and loving others! My life for yours! Thanks again, too, for your gifts of writing and speaking that you are using so well. We loved when you came to speak to the women at National Pres!

    • Oh Currie, it was so marvelous to hear from you! I miss all the National Pres gals and would love to return… (have 2 new books arriving in late 2019 and early 2020). Yes, that whole “joyful inconvenience” is a real humdinger. Love to all down there…

  12. Daphne Woodall says:

    I loved listening to Elisabeth on Gateway to Joy. Lucinda you have led an interesting life.


  13. Carrol says:

    I am always looking for inspiration for my 28 year old grandson who has suffered with a very painful physical affliction for 8 years. During this time, he has written two books and composed over 20 pieces of music while developing a successful career as a pianist. Your words of wisdom are just what he needs.

  14. Sarah says:

    Oh what a lovely post! So precious of you to share of your cherished friendship with this amazing woman!! Truly she is (besides our Lord & His Word) who has helped me most in recent years, as my husband & I have navigated a long period of suffering with a prodigal child, who once loved our Lord Jesus. (She is 35 and we know God is doing mighty things to bring her Home!)
    At this very moment I have 2 EE books on my bedside table!! :))
    Would LOVE to add her new one to the stack!
    Thank you, Lucinda. God Bless You!!

  15. Cathy Gohlke says:

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories, Cindy. Truly she was a mentor who taught you to mentor others by word and example–something you’ve done and do so beautifully through your writing and speaking. Only Heaven will reveal the lives you and Elizabeth have touched and moved closer to our Lord. Please do not enter me in the drawing as I already have a copy of this precious book by Valerie.

  16. Barbwaite says:

    I remember the once I was privleged to hear Elizabeth speak, she was reserved – but oh so wise and straightforward. This sounds like a wonderful book. It will go on my wish list. What we have lost in the art of letter writing.

  17. mruemerrill says:

    Hi Cindy,

    This is beautiful. My computer won’t let me post on your actual blog. Weird! But I am grateful for your words–and Elisabeth’s.



  18. Lucinda Peeples says:

    As I read your blog it seemed very familiar. Then I remembered reading articles by Elizabeth Elliott in Guideposts! So nice reading about her once again and being reminded about suffering is not for a reason. Thank you for sharing. I do hope my name might be drawn as I would love to read her book of letters.
    Lucinda Peeples, Waco TX

    • Thank you, Lucinda, for reading all about Elisabeth. I think you will enjoy her books. Your name is in the drawing. Will write down names on paper and have someone draw from the basket on June 30 announcing winner on July 1. Blessings.

  19. Peggy Knight says:

    Thank you for this post which has helped me to make a decision I have been praying about to serve my church in a certain way. I also think it remarkable that God would use me to touch people for Him. I am always encouraged, motivated or humbled reading your posts since you spoke at our women’s conference a couple of years ago. Your gift helps me! Now I want to read some of Elizabeth Elliott’s writings.

  20. Mary Wilken says:

    Cindy I was so happy to read your insider stories about Elisabeth. She is a remarkable woman–I loved her style but she was so intimidating although a most lovely hostess. Terry and I and our boys had the privilege of being in her home in the nineties enroute to a Billy Graham meeting in Montreal CA. Ross and Jeff were the perfect age to revel in the jungle story. As she showed them the spears and shields, in her regal way she asked me, “Do the boys know about the Acuas?” You can imagine my dismay at having to say no–I was mortified! She, however, was nothing but gracious. A few years later I learned a great lesson from her when I heard her speak to a large audience. A woman stood up in the middle of her talk and went off on some weird spiritual tangent that could have disrupted the whole meeting. There was a palpable silence when the woman paused to take a breath and Elisabeth said firmly, “Thank you” and abruptly went on with her presentation as the woman sat down. She is greatly missed as a voice of reason and exhortation. Thank you for writing this and for letting us know about Valerie’s book–it looks like a treasure. Mary

    • Oh Mary, I love your story of visiting Elisabeth which I had forgotten (if I ever knew) – I think I also forgot to send you a Birthday Card and gift this June. It is in an envelope but alas, it will probably be July before you get it. Glad we have such a rich heritage… Praying daily for all.

  21. adaisy4you says:

    This is so beautiful—written by a beautiful soul concerning a beautiful soul. I have learned so much from Elisabeth, though I was never privileged to meet her. One thing: “Do the NEXT thing.” I try, whatever that might be, guided by God’s loving, most capable hand. I so appreciate you sharing this. YOU have, in only a short span of time, spoken so much truth into my life. Others have too—my mom, other dear sisters in the Lord, my husband… Thank you. I love you!

  22. Carol Nicholls says:

    I remember listening to Ger last radio program and being so overwhelmed with the thought “what will I do without her wisdom?” She was such an amazing and faithful woman. Thank you for sharing the gift she imparted to you!

  23. Melody Chapman says:

    Cindy, I feel like we just had a wonderful talk together after reading your thoughts
    Re Elizabeth Elliot , whom I have considered to be my spiritual
    Mentor for years along with corrie ten boom.
    Thanks for the reminder of this saintly woman
    Many years I saw her name on the wall of missionaries trained at wheaton college. Jim
    Elliot’s name was there, too, and I shed tears immediately.
    I am reading a wonderful book right now called “50 women every Christian should know”. Elizabeth is not in it, but some of her mentors are.

    • Thanks, Melody, for your comments. If you like Elisabeth Elliot and Corrie ten Boom, you would probably enjoy my book “Soul Strong” coming out in 2020 on seven keys for a vibrant life. The one you’re reading now sounds great too. Blessings.

  24. Rebecca Snyder says:

    God blessed you with this wonderful gift of friendship.
    As a young girl I read everything Corrie ten Boom wrote along with Elisabeth Elliot.
    Both these ladies books helped mold my thoughts regarding.living my faith.

  25. Chris Barratt says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post! Elisabeth Elliot influenced my life greatly! I would listen to her radio program Gateway to Joy and it never failed to speak into my life with each broadcast! I’ve went on to teach my own daughters the truths of her life and they read and enjoy her books today. She was a remarkable woman and we could use more of her example in our culture today!

  26. Judy Foppiano says:

    Dear Cindy, I am behind in reading your Encouraging words and having just read this one, it has really touched my heart. I felt like I was in the room with the two of you. Thank you for sharing your sweet friend and friendship. I now must read Elizabeth’s books.

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