Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Saints on Strawberry Cove: Part 3

It happened while I was sitting in a Sunday morning worship service about 6 weeks ago. I don't really know if it was the Holy Spirit, but it certainly seemed like it. The thought, or rather, the strong compelling notion just kept coming to me:

Go and see Elisabeth.  You need to go and see Elisabeth and Lars.

I didn't do anything about it at first, and wondered whether the Lord might only be compelling me to pray for them, so I did.  But the thought, the notion, the urge would not leave.  I would forget about it for a couple of days and then it would return. Since youth camp (at Gordon College, near their home) was just around the corner, I decided to wait and not do anything until it was a little closer.  The closer youth camp got, the more emotional the urge became.  I would tear up every time I thought of a visit.
 This made me wonder if something had happened to them, so I visited the Elisabeth Elliot website, where Lars tries to maintain a monthly update on her, on them.  I knew that Elisabeth had struggled with a few physical issues especially after weathering a bad fall a few years ago.  I also knew that it was becoming more and more difficult for her mentally after our lunch with them in 2006. I reached out to Lars after that lunch and let him know that I was not prepared for Elisabeth's "distance" and inability to really answer any questions or carry on conversation by herself.  He wrote back to share that she seemed to be struggling with a similar issue to her own mother in her later years, but said he did not really have a name for it.  When I checked in a month ago, I learned that Elisabeth had recently experienced a TIA (transient ischemic attack or "mini-stroke"), and a CT scan at the hospital revealed that she also had a touch of pneumonia.
 I also learned that she and Lars have two live-in caretakers now named Kea and Carrie, and that Elisabeth eats two eggs and half of an avocado for breakfast every morning.

Eggs and avocado.  We MUST be kindred spirits.

I waited until Robert and I arrived at Gordon College for the staff weekend before all of the campers arrived on Monday, and gave Lars a call on Saturday morning. He didn't answer, so I left a message.  Then he called back and left me a message. We finally talked on Sunday afternoon and set the time for a visit for Tuesday afternoon at 3:30.  This time, thankfully, I had a several skirts to choose from!

 Tuesday midday, Sarah, our girls' chaperone at camp, and I made a quick trip to Target to get the last piece of a gift basket I wanted to make and take with me. (She and Robert are the only ones I told about my upcoming afternoon visit. Oh, and my friend Abby, too, who saw me walking with my basket through campus and offered me a ride to my car.) I had already acquired a pineapple, a bag of Godiva chocolates, some bananas, and.....four avocados, of course, so now I needed a basket of some sort in which to put all the goodies I planned to take. Back in my dorm room, I worked on the basket arrangement, changed into my skirt, grabbed my camera, and headed to Strawberry Cove. I prayed that there would be a farm stand selling fresh eggs along the drive to their house, but none appeared.

 A call to Lars had to be made eventually, because I got lost.  The GPS was a bit confused about the actual location of Strawberry Cove.  Lars was not surprised at all by this and talked me through how to turn around, get my bearings, and make it to their house.

"Go back to town, and when the Dunkin Donuts is on your right, drive down and then up a hill.  Just after the crest, you will see Strawberry Cove.  Turn right, and we'll be the second drive on the left.  I'll stand on the front step and wait," he instructed.

When I arrived, there he was standing on the doorstep as promised.  A hug and then exclamations about the gift basket greeted me.  The chocolate was the immediate joke.

"60%?" he said. "That's 'Private Reserve.'"

This joke continued into the house in order to make the two young Christian caretakers worry that I had brought in some high-quality liquor.

"He's talking about the chocolate I put in the basket," I finally had to explain.

They are used to his antics, so we all had a good laugh.

Lars served me hot tea, which was wonderful, and cookies, which I really hated to refuse, but he understood.  We sat in the living room catching up while the girls helped Elisabeth to the bathroom and then back to the living room in her wheelchair.
One reason for the 3:30pm visit time was due to this being Elisabeth's most alert time of the day, and alert she was. Though I took my camera, I wondered if taking pictures might be an intrusion, so I simply left it in my purse.  But after a few moments of talking, Lars urged me to take some pictures, since she was wide awake and even a bit chatty.  (The first two photos in this post are the ones I took just then.) What she says can't always be understood, but still she chattered away, off and on throughout my visit.  In fact, Lars said she had not been that alert since her TIA.

There is no question that though she seems "distant" she has a level of awareness ~ probably more than anyone of us would conceive. She knows who her husband is, that's for sure. She hardly ever let go of his hand, rubbing it, caressing it, and turning it over and over in her own.  If he ever pulled his hand away in order to use it for storytelling emphasis, she reached out for it again and again.

She seemed to be taking so much comfort and refuge in this man who has loved her and cared for her and stewarded her life so, so well. She appeared to be expressing a restricted, yet abounding gratitude for his presence, probably especially because of this semi-stranger in the house.

And she was very clear about expressing her desires when Carrie, her full time RN, tried to get her to look at the camera for our pictures together.  After some prodding from Carrie, Elisabeth voiced a slow but decisive "No," while continuing to look only at Lars. Ha!  I tried not to have my feelings hurt, but couldn't help but worry that my visit, and certainly this photo session, was not as enjoyable for her as it seemed for the rest of us. Elisabeth has never been known for her gushing affections, convivial personality, or sense of humor, but neither have I, so it's okay. She's serious, discerning, devout, faithful, no nonsense, and earnest.  I totally understand.
If you've read much of Elisabeth's writings, you know that this is her daily view of the Atlantic from Cape Ann
 in the home that she designed herself.
I've imagined it many times in my mind, and was blessed to see it in person.
My plan was to get back to Gordon College and spend some time writing down every detail of my afternoon in their home, but it just wasn't possible. (Camp life is non-stop, and camp drama ensued shortly thereafter.) I can tell you that Lars and I share some similar political opinions, so there were jokes about global warming and Al Gore's own carbon footprint, concern for traditional marriage and gender roles including a story about Elisabeth speaking in his hometown in Norway once.  Seems she caused quite a stir with her teaching on biblical gender roles for some there. (I feel her pain) So much that the bishop or pastor asked her to change topics for her next speaking engagement. She even made the front page of the local newspaper which gave them a hearty laugh.

I also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Carrie and Kea just a bit.  Both young, single, Christian woman personally and recently recruited by Lars to come and help care for Elisabeth full time.  Both shared their story of being contacted by Lars through his various contacts in the broader national Christian community, of praying before giving him an answer, though it seemed like a no-brainer, and finally deciding to come.  They were both really delightful.  When I first asked them how they had managed to be given this great honor, Lars laughed and said, "Careful with that word 'honor.'  I'm not sure that's exactly what this is."

I think all of the women in the room agreed that it was indeed an honor to care for this well-known saint in what may be her last days, though Lars would caution that no one really knows when those are or will be.

I like that.
Driving back to campus, I fully expected an immediate onslaught of uncontrollable tears of joy and emotion, but that didn't happen right away. I just kept being overcome with awe at the faithfulness of Lars Gren.  Much of his life has been only about Elisabeth. He moved into her house as a seminary boarder and to be part-time caretaker for Elisabeth's second husband, Addison, who was dying of cancer. Addison passed away before Lars moved in, so she took in a second male boarder and seminary student.  If you know the entertaining story then you know that Lars ended up marrying Elisabeth, and the younger boarder married Valerie, Elisabeth and Jim Elliot's only daughter.

I asked Lars what he went to seminary for.  He had pursued an Mdiv in order to become a chaplain, and did spend some time working in that capacity in the nearby Beverly hospital. Elisabeth continued her writing and speaking, often accompanied by Lars.  Prior to one of those speaking engagements, Lars felt prompted to take along a few of Elisabeth's books, set them out on a small table, and offer them for sale after she spoke. He took no cash box, and obviously had no idea how eagerly her audience would respond to the opportunity to purchase books on the spot. He ended up using small paper cups to hold his different increments of coins and change and sold every book he brought.

So, a ministry was born, and Lars has been handling Elisabeth's book and CD sales ever since.  For many years, he has also handled every bit of correspondence brought about by their ministry. It may take him a couple of weeks or months, but he will get back to you, guaranteed, and with a personal note, you can be certain.

I couldn't help but think of how specifically he has fulfilled Christ's commands to husbands in Ephesians 5:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought to also love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes is, just as Christ also does the church. v. 25-29

Lars has loved, served, and cherished Elisabeth in her health and at the height of her career, and he has only continued that selfless service in her sickness and weakness. In countless ways, he has given himself up for her and the powerful missionary story of tragedy and forgiveness she embodies.

His story is every bit as heroic as hers.

Before leaving, I asked him how I could pray, and he said, "We need prayer for the daily tasks, strength for each day."  The girls echoed this and shared that they truly appreciate prayers on their behalf, as some days are good and others are very difficult.

I was serious when I offered myself as a help in any way, though I live a couple of hours from them.  It would truly be an honor. (And Lars, if you're reading, I really do mean honor.)

In the meantime, I pray.

(P.S. The very next morning while I was leading a Bible study for the adult female chaperones at camp, my phone started buzzing, and I could see that Lars was calling. Panic struck, as I feared he had tragic news.  I listened to his message and was relieved and then quite tickled to hear that he only wanted to thank me for the visit.  He also said he wished I had taken my basket with me, but that since I had insisted that they keep it, they had decided to use it to hold all of their World Magazines and display on the coffee table in the living room.  He went on and on with thanks and gratitude, and I don't plan on ever erasing that kind voice message from my phone!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So very special. I'm glad you responded to the nudging you had to go visit. What a blessing and treasure! Love, K&J