Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Dannah Gresh: Valerie Shepard learned a lot from her mother about how to respond to life’s difficulties. Elisabeth Elliot often said:

Valerie Shepard: “This is the Lord’s. When you have a huge problem, you put it in those hands, and give it to Him, and He transforms your suffering.”

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Forgiveness, for February 13, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

This week we’re listening to a conversation between the host of Revive Our Hearts, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, and Valerie Shepard. On yesterday’s program, Valerie told about how she was in the attic going through a trunk of things that used to belong to her father and mother, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot.

If those names are new to you, Jim passed away in 1956. He was speared to death by the very people he wanted to reach with the gospel. Elisabeth lived a full life and passed away in 2015. After her death, their daughter found their love letters, and those letters formed the basis of her book, Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot.

When we left the conversation yesterday, Val was sharing that Jim and Elisabeth were very much in love with each other but felt that it wasn’t God’s timing yet for them to marry. They parted from one another not knowing if they would ever see each other again.

Now some of what Val and Nancy are about to discuss today might be rated PG, so keep that in mind if you have little ones nearby. Here’s Val Shepard in conversation with Nancy.

Valerie: Their romance, even though it sounds so old-fashioned, their commitment first to God and then to each other is what it should be today, too. I mean, we should have the same kind of absolute commitment to Christ first.

I have met a couple of young people who have said because of my parents’ story, they decided to start writing letters to each other instead of texting. Of course, texting is so easy and so fast—and lost in the world of cyberspace—whereas real letters are timeless. They eventually get destroyed, but you get to read their conversation.

It was such a privilege to go through all of those letters and sense the importance, the weight of their words to know that this should be shared with the public.

Now, my mother wrote the book Passion and Purity about their love story, but it’s very short.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: And worth reading.

Valerie: It is worth reading, and a lot of young people have read it, understanding that their commitment to Christ had to be above their commitment to someone they loved.

Nancy: And part of that, for your mom and dad, their commitment to Christ first, also meant saving sex for marriage. And that’s almost unheard of today.

Valerie: Yes. And I think in the church it needs to be taught that single people should not be sleeping with each other. It’s in the Bible—it’s in the Book, as you hear that expression. It’s what we should still be following.

Nancy: I remember hearing a message your mom gave to the students at Wheaton College years ago—and I’ll paraphrase—but she was talking to them about endurance and perseverance in God’s ways. And then she just so, in her plain-spoken way, said, “Stay out of bed.” And, again, this was an older woman speaking to these college students, but not just saying, “Do it the old-fashioned way,” but saying, “God’s ways are so good, so much better than our ways.

Valerie: So much better than the worldly ways. It’s a message that needs to be continued to be taught. It needs to be passed down from generation to generation. I’m very thankful my mother taught me from the time I was eleven or twelve, “Keep boys at arm’s length, and no sex before marriage.” I’m very, very thankful for that.

Nancy: Well, thanks to our partners at FamilyLife, we have a recording of your mother saying that same thing. She as talking with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine about her book, Quest for Love. Let’s listen to Elisabeth Elliot.

Elisabeth Elliot: I said, “Keep your hands off and your clothes on.” That’s the basic rule for everybody. And you certainly should not even hold hands until you’re engaged. I confess that Jim and I did kiss after we became engaged.

I’ve had a number of letters from young people who have made up their minds that the safest thing is to wait until they’re at the altar when the pastor turns to them then and says, “You may express your love for each other.” At which point, in front of an audience, they have their first kiss.

That’s great. I wouldn’t make fun of that at all, but I don’t say that that’s absolutely necessary. But I do think when young people . . . the minute they start messing around along the edges, then they’re already beginning the downward slide.

But, “Are you going to tell us, Elisabeth Elliot, that it’s a sin to hold hands?”

No. I’m not going to tell you that it’s a sin to hold hands. But I’m going to ask you a question: “Why do you do it?”

Well, they do it because it feels good.

My next question is: “Is there any difference between shaking hands with the pastor at the door of the church and holding hands with a member of the opposite sex who is attractive to you when you’re in a dark place? Is there any difference at all?”

Well then, of course, they kind of giggle and nudge each other. And I said, “Of course, you know there’s a tremendous difference. And so, why are you doing this?”

“Because it’s fun. Because it’s exciting.”

And that is exactly the way God intended it to be. God intended that there should be a certain progression from Point A to Point B to Point C and, ultimately, to consummation in marriage. But when is it appropriate to start playing that game? It is not appropriate until a commitment has been made.

Nancy: So that’s how your mom used to speak to young people back in the ’90s. But long before that, before her marriage to Jim Elliot, she was still at the point, as it says in the Song of Solomon, “Don’t awake love before it’s the right time.”

Valerie: Because their love story was quite long and arduous because of their conversations about following Christ first and obedience to Christ. It sets an example to young people, who may not have that long of a love story, but they see that the commitment to the glory to God, to being obedient to Scripture, is more important than feelings.

And in this day and age, from the ’70s, ’60s, on, feelings reigned. “I’m okay. You’re okay. We do whatever we feel like doing because it feels good.” And my mother used to speak against that. We don’t do what we feel like doing. We are to be obedient to Christ.

Nancy: She wasn’t against feelings. It’s not that feelings are wrong or sinful. They’re God-given, or can be.

Valerie: But they are held in check.

Nancy: And to be ruled over by truth, by the Word of God. And then that creates the pathway for the truest and most beautiful feelings. So, to keep boys at arm’s length—that’s wasn’t a message for your whole life. You have eight children. Clearly, you didn’t keep your husband at arm’s length. So the point is not that sex is something to be despised or distained or avoided, but that, don’t awaken love until the appropriate time.

Valerie: Right. And she taught me that there was a sacredness of the marriage union that was to be respected and honored. She taught me that sacredness was a God-given gift, but it was to be held in marriage and to be waited for. So, again, that delayed gratification, waiting for something that’s special and wonderful in marriage.

Nancy: I want to come back to how she taught you that concept of delayed gratification. But first, let’s hear what your mom told Dennis and Bob about how your dad finally proposed to her. This just makes me smile.

Elisabeth: It was five years later in Ecuador, where I was working on one side of the Andes, Jim on the other, that God finally gave to Jim a green light. The reason that he had hesitated so long was because he had been told by senior missionaries that there was jungle pioneer work that needed to be done only by single men. So he had given that a very good try for a whole year and concluded that if this single woman that he loved was doing pioneer work all by herself for the jungle on the other side of the Andes, there really wasn’t any reason why I would be a hindrance to his pioneer work on the eastern side of the Andes, at which point he felt that God gave him the green light to propose to me.

So it wasn’t until then. He sent me a cablegram and asked me to meet him in Quito. I got on my horse. I rode about five hours to the closest town, and then I rode ten hours in a banana truck, and we met in Quito. And sitting by a fireplace, Jim said, “I want you for my wife. Do you want to marry me?”

Dennis Rainey: And you said?

Elisabeth: Well, I said something like, “Do I want to marry you?”

And he said, “Yes, that’s what I’m asking you.”

There was a long pause, and I said, “Yes.”

Nancy: That is so sweet. Val. If it weren’t for that yes, you wouldn’t be here!

So how did your mom go about teaching you the concept of delayed gratification?

Valerie: My mother taught me just through giving me little surprises—to wait for my birthday, to wait for Christmas. She kept secrets perfectly. She never would let out hints or even let out a secret. She knew it had to be kept until a certain day. And she asked me to keep it secret, which was the hardest thing in the world for me, because I am one that likes to give details and speak openly.

But when I was thirteen, she came home from a speaking trip. I had wished for a daddy when I was very young, but I don’t remember going through my childhood wishing all the time. It wasn’t a big sorrow. But when I got to know girls in New Hampshire, as a nine- and ten-year old and saw their dads with them, I began to think, It’d be nice to have a daddy.

So this one morning I went in to see her. She’d come in after I’d gone to sleep the night before from a speaking engagement, and she said, “Val, I have a surprise for you.” This usually meant a little, tiny gift that she brought from the trip. She said, “This time it’s not a little present to put in your hand. It’s some exciting news.”

And I said, “What, Mama?”

And she said, “I’m getting married.”

And I looked at her, wide-eyed, and then burst into tears.

And she said, “Oh, why are you crying?” because she had a huge, glowing smile on her face before that. And she said, “Why are you crying, Val?”

And I said, “Well, it’s not something to laugh about.” This was a serious thing. She’s getting married. We were very close . . .

Nancy: This is the first clue you had?

Valerie: Yes. First clue. So she said, “We’re getting married January 1, but you are not to tell anyone until the day of the wedding that I’m getting married.”

Nancy: Oh my goodness!

Valerie: So I’m thirteen. That morning, I get on the bus, sat down next to my best friend, and her first question was to me—I had not said a word—her first question was, “Has your mother gotten married yet?”

You see how God tested me right away? And I knew in my heart—I’d just promised my mother I would not tell—and I did not. I said, “No,” because the answer truly was she hadn’t gotten married yet. I was relieved inside, thinking, Yes, I could say the truth, because I was a truth speaker like my mother was. I wanted to speak the truth, but I didn’t have to tell the whole thing. I could just say, “No.”

Nancy: Did you know she was dating anybody?

Valerie: No. Addison Leitch had come to visit us and had had dinner with us. And he wrote to me a letter after she told me that they were going to marry, and he said, “You did meet me one day this past fall.” And I barely remembered. I probably didn’t care. But when I had this beautiful letter from him, very kind, but freely telling me that both of us loved the same person. So we had something in common. But freely offering me the gift of not feeling like I had to love him as a Daddy right away.

Nancy: Well, you didn’t even know him.

Valerie: Right. So this letter, which came after they had gotten engaged, and I found it several years ago and thought, What a precious, kind letter from him, just saying, I hope we will be good friends because we love the same person, but I don’t want you to feel like I’m going to be expecting you to call me Daddy right away.

And it was a beautiful relationship they had as well as my relationship with him, as I wanted to call him Daddy. I had him for four-and-a-half years as my daddy, and then he died of cancer. So the Lord took him away from her just as He had taken away my dad.

And so those two widowhoods, out of those two times of real loneliness and sorrow, God brought about much of her ministry of speaking on suffering and then her latest book, Suffering Is Never for Nothing, is from all of the tapes she spoke about suffering.

Elisabeth: So I want to give you a definition of suffering, which will cover the whole gamut from when the washing machine overflows or when the roast burns, and you’re having the boss for dinner that night, all those things about which our immediate human reaction is, “Oh no!” from that kind of triviality—relatively speaking—to “Your husband has cancer. Your child is spina bifida,” or you have just lost everything. I think you will find that the definition I’m going to give you will cover that gamut.

And I think that the things that I’m going to try to say to you will apply to the small things, those sometimes ridiculously small things that, if you’re anything like me, you get all upset about and all bent out of shape about, that matter not at all by comparison with the big things. And here it is, my definition:

Suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.

Now, if you can think of something that does not come under those two headings, please see me later because I do want to hear about it. I think that covers everything.

Nancy: Val, I think your mom’s experiences with so much death and grief and pain gave her a unique platform to be able to bring God’s Word to bear on suffering in ways that few others of her generation could.

You mentioned the death of her second husband, Addison Leitch. That was, of course, a huge second loss for her in the area of marriage, but it was also a big loss for you as a teenage girl.

Valerie: Yes.

Nancy: How, in that season of your life, did your mother’s worldview, her view of God, of life, how did it form your response to the loss of Ad Leitch?

Valerie: I think of her, with her hands open to whatever God gave her, and she was absolutely thrilled to be married to him. I saw their love. I saw how happy they were. But she taught me that we had to give every issue, every problem, everything to God with hands open to Him for Him to take back.

And so, when he was dying of cancer, she came to me one day, because I’d been saying, “I really believe God’s going to heal him.” 

And she said, “Val, I think you need to understand that he may not be healed because he doesn’t have the will to fight against the cancer, the will to live.”

And I said, “Well, I think that God’s going to heal him.” I was always very optimistic, and I believed God was going to heal him.

So she said that to me about three months before he died. So when I went in to say goodbye to him—I was on my way to Wheaton for my Sophomore year—and I said, “Daddy, when I see you next, you’ll be all well. It will be Thanksgiving, and you will be all well.” And I smiled at him.

And he looked at me, and he said, “No, Val. I’m dying.”

And I just smiled. It was like it went in one ear and out the other. I said, “No. You’re going to be all well when I see you next.”

And I kissed him goodbye, and that was the last time I saw him. He died, literally, three days later after that. When I got to Wheaton, she called me and said, “Daddy’s dying.” And that night he died.

And the peace of the Lord that passes all understanding just fell over me. It was an unbelievable sudden understanding of God’s sovereignty. I thought of her open hands. And my ability at that moment to say, “Lord, he is Yours. You knew what to do with him.”

Yes, I was kind of demanding healing, but also really aware that we can’t claim healing, but we can certainly continue to pray. I had high hopes that God was going to heal him. But it was this sudden understanding of: God is sovereign. He allowed my dad to die for His reasons—my step-dad and my dad—to die for God’s glory.

And my mother, out of that suffering, was able to help many, many, many, many people because she said, “We give this gift of suffering back to Him, and He transforms it.”

I’m just very thankful for her representation of a life given to God, which taught me my life was God’s, too, and I was to trust Him no matter what.

I lost a little baby at four months in the womb, and I was able to name her Joy because I knew that in Thy presence is fullness of joy. I felt at peace even though, of course, I was sad. It was this: God’s in charge. And so, why not keep our hands open before Him and not cling to something for ourselves that is going to be temporary and is earthly.

It’s something we think we have to have for ourselves, but if we give everything to Him . . . I just remember always her holding up her hands before the Lord and before an audience and saying, “This is the Lord’s.” When you have a huge problem, you put it in those hands, and give it to Him, and He transforms your suffering—into whatever He wants to use it for His glory, but it’s saying, “I will trust Him no matter what. Though He slay me, I will trust Him.”

Nancy: And that’s rooted in the confidence that God is wise, that He has the right to do what He wants to do, but also that He’s wise, and that He’s good, and that He loves us.

Valerie: Yes. Right.

Nancy: Sometimes those theological bedrock truths seem at odds with what our experience is.

When I think of your mother and those who have been influenced through her life and ministry, at the heart, the DNA of her teaching, her writing, her speaking was: “Those bedrock things are true. No matter what I feel, no matter what is going on around me, God can be trusted to write my story. So I say, ‘Yes, Lord.’”

I remember her talking about Mary of Nazareth. I mean, here’s a fourteen-year-old, maybe, a young Jewish girl whose life and plans are totally upended by the will of God. And Mary saying . . .

Valerie: “Be it unto me according to Thy Word.”

Nancy: Exactly. My life verse, Luke 1:38, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as You have said.”

And for me, that . . . Of course, growing up in a home where the goodness and sovereignty of God were bedrock was a huge foundation for my life. But then as a young adult woman, your mother’s constant coming back to that same theme was (I didn’t know her—not really. We met a few times.) a legacy, a mark in my life. I don’t always live it out well. Sometimes I trust my feelings more than I trust the facts, but that’s what you have to keep coming back to. It’s learning to fly by the instruments instead of by sight.

If you’re flying by sight, and you get in the clouds, you lose your bearing. You’re confused, and you’re going to head in the wrong direction. But if you’re flying by the instruments, you trust the instruments rather than your own sense of what is going on around you.

And I think of your mother as someone who trusted the instruments. 

Valerie: The bedrock of her faith was Christ Himself. Christ is the Word, and the Word is life. And we need to hear that Word daily. That’s why, I’m sure you do, too, just encourage women to get in the Word. It’s the life that we need.

I love the verse in Jeremiah 15:16, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them, and they became to me the joy and delight of my life.”

That’s our bedrock. It’s truth. And it’s what we have to stake our lives on no matter what trial we’re going through.

Nancy: But if we’re not before the trial grounded in the truth, if we’re not putting our roots down deep into the soil of the truth of God’s Word, that’s where He makes Himself known to us. Then the trial comes, and it throws us. It throws us to be controlled by our emotions, by our fears, by the opinions of others. And that is a terrible way to live, to be at the mercy of your feelings and your circumstances.

And you’re right, Val. My first book was about the daily devotional life, A Place of Quiet Rest: Finding Intimacy with God Through a Daily Devotional Life. I’ve often said if I could only share one message with women, it would be that message because if our hearts are rooted in the Word of God, in the ways of God, then, what does Psalm 1 say? We’re going to stand firm. We’re going to be like a tree planted by rivers of water. Jeremiah says we’re going to be fruitful in every season, not just in the good seasons or easy seasons.

So as a pastor’s wife, as a mom, now a grandmom, a key message of your life is: Get into God’s Word. Get God’s Word into you. And it’s going to carry you through those hard times.

Valerie: Absolutely.

Nancy: I’m so thankful that you’ve written this book—and when I say you wrote it, a lot of it is your mom’s or your dad’s writings, their journals, their letters. But with our friends at B & H Publishers, you compiled this into what is a new, or fresh glimpse into the love life of your parents, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot.

It’s intriguing and fascinating just from the standpoint of their relationship, their friendship. It’s unusual, but, even if you’re not into reading love letters, or you don’t care that much about that season of their lives, there’s so much rich heart expressed her of what it means to love Christ supremely, to trust Him supremely, to pursue Him and His will above everything and every other love in your life; and to be willing to lay down your other loves because you’ve got eternity imprinted on your eyeballs. That’s what you’re living for.

It’s interesting that those letters they wrote, having no sense at that time, no knowledge of where their lives would end up or what their future would be. But it really was those same foundational truths they were expressing in those letters and journals that are what steadied and stayed them through the jungle experience, the widowhood, the twice widowed, the rest of their lives. It expresses what were the core convictions that drove their lives and sustained your mother through all of her life.

Dannah: The title of Val’s book comes from the way her father, Jim Elliot, signed some of his letters to Elisabeth: “Devotedly.”

You’re certainly going to want a copy of this book if you, like me, feasted on the book Elisabeth Elliot wrote about their love relationship called Passion and Purity.

We would love to get a copy of this new book by our guest today, Valerie Shepard, into your hands. It’s our way of thanking you for your donation to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. So just go ReviveOurHearts.com. Decide how much the Lord would have you give. Then click where you see “Donate.”

Be sure to request your copy of Val’s book when you contact us. Again, the website is ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Now, what exactly does it mean to be devoted? That’s something Valerie will address tomorrow. I’m Dannah Gresh. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Reminding you that our God is the sovereign Ruler of the universe, Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.