I loved your book! I took four pages of notes. It brought back vivid memories of you, Wheaton and my grandfather. He, too, was a missionary in South America. From a letter he wrote to a supporter in 1923:
“Within me rose a soul burning passion to reach the unreached of the most neglected continent of the world…So today finds me seated in a little 2 x 4 hut 1000 miles north of that grand city of Buenos Aires…to do this work, I will have to buy a good mule and saddle…(Some Indians have just killed a large snake outside of my hut.)…”
And your book brought memories of you, because we met at Wheaton when I was a freshman. You were a sophomore.
“How blessed you are!” You and your roommate Donna announced as you marched joyfully into the room I shared with Rochelle, in Fisher Dorm on the first day of school. “You have the room we had last year!”
A year later, we were in Concert Choir together. Every time I hear the hymn “Beautiful Savior” I think of you singing the solo of the first verse on choir tour.
We traveled through England, studying Arthurian Legend and Dickens with Wheaton’s English Lit program in the summer of 1975. I had just fallen in love with Duane that spring.
“Jill, Walt and I are engaged, but we don’t write as many letters as you do,” you said.
I received a letter from Duane every day. I wrote to him every day, too. I was surprised at how matter of factly, Valerie, you explained your love relationship, as we talked about love in your dorm room one afternoon. I was a bundle of over the top emotional love. I was devastated to be apart from Duane for one minute! I remember your quiet smile, a response to my youthful exuberance for Duane. Well, you were one year older than me, and already engaged.
That summer, I was trying to get through the eleven weeks away from Duane, without thinking ahead. The last week in August, when we returned from England, Duane got our parent’s permission for me to vacation with his family at a cabin on Lake Chautauqua in New York. One afternoon we stepped into a small boat and Duane rowed to the middle of the placid lake.
“I have it all figured out,” He began. “I’ve prayed about this a lot while you were gone. From everything we’ve written to each other this summer, I know we’re supposed to be together. It’s not going to be easy; we’re going to have to wait to get married.”
I was shocked to hear the ‘m’ word! I was only 20.
Reading “Devotedly” was like reliving that summer, and the next two years. After the Wheaton in England summer program, I had to take off the fall semester. We were apart again. I was in Minnesota while he while he was at Wheaton. Phone calls were long distance; rare and expensive. We wrote letters. And waited. I remember Mother’s response to my moping.
“What do you think couples did during WW II? Our friends Jack and Joan were separated for years!”
Her words did not console me.
Reading your parents’ words about waiting, did. Looking back over forty years gives a different perspective.
“…Perhaps you’re in one of those places where these insights of hers will speak with perfectly timed wisdom in your life,” you wrote.
And from your mom’s diary of September 7, 1950 “….Rather, my Father has quietly opened the way, often after much “sitting still on the part of his daughter; repeated disappointments, “hope deferred”; and finally, a revealing of some plan which does not at all fit my expectations….And in the meantime, while I am waiting, watching, praying, He gives quietness and peace. He will never suffer me to be tempted above that I am able…So I go on, not knowing – I would not if I might. I’d rather walk in the dark with God than go alone in the light. Over and over I am impressed with the importance of walking alone with Him, following Him regardless of all else…” – p. 116
Life continues to bring those times that need waiting on God. Your mom’s words encouraged me to trust God while I wait.
“Devotedly,” also reminded me of my mother’s family. I have to disagree with you on one point in the book. In the Preface, you say, “I come from a ‘quite ordinary family.” No. My mother’s family, like your mother’s family, was a family with a uniquely rich spiritual heritage. My mother’s father (the one who served God in South America) was now a pastor in the Philadelphia area and also taught at Philadelphia College of the Bible. Your grandfather was the editor of the Sunday School Times. Your mother grew up in an intelligent, gifted family that took God seriously. “The godly people in the land are my heroes” – Psalm 16:3.
That secure, godly heritage blessed your mom. Your mom’s letters radiate confidence in word and thought. Your dad commented on this once, describing your mom as ‘the Woman with the Man’s Mind (all that from Wheaton)’ – p. 246. I never saw, in any sentence, anything but your parents having a mutual respect for each other; in devotion to God, ability or intelligence. The letters illustrate they talked over every detail of life and marriage; no thought or topic was off limits or not of interest to the other. In the Christian culture of their time, and the continued controversy over male/female ‘roles’ in marital relationships, the tone and subjects of their letters are truly remarkable.
After reading “Devotedly,” I dug out one of Duane’s letters to me:
“…I wanted somebody to hear everything I was thinking – and I wanted to tell everything to you. And then you sent me a few letters; one about money, and a couple about God giving us a hard go of it in our being apart to strengthen our character…” Separation and letter writing might be the secret to a happy marriage!
“Devotedly,” reminded me of my love for Wheaton. Loved the picture of your dad looking at a letter in the college post office. He stands in front of the same boxes that were there when I was there! I wish I had taken more pictures at Wheaton! The memory of your mother and dad walking to the lagoon as Wheaton students took me back to one of the places Duane and I had our first picnic, when I cut a math test because it was Duane’s birthday. Here we are at Duane’s graduation in front of Blanchard in 1976.
Your book isn’t primarily for lovers, although the title mentions, ‘love story.’ Your mother said, “life cannot be all love…” p. 198. That made me smile. She was clearly, deeply in love. Knowing her practical personality, through her letters, I understand what she meant. The book is mainly for all of us who have committed to follow God and might be discouraged in our waiting for him. Or any of us who are seeking God’s guidance in a complicated situation. Your parents’ letters illustrated how they kept moving ahead and carrying on with their lives, even when God’s ways seemed mysterious.
It’s for those of us in lonely times. “Have no care for me, Jim, He alone is enough.” (p.122) With eerie foreshadowing of your mother’s life, ‘loneliness’ is often mentioned in their letters.
In spite of their difficulties, the letters aren’t somber. Your mom and dad enthusiastically enjoyed life. It was fun to read of their interests in being outdoors, music, reading, and friends. They didn’t take themselves too seriously, either. “Let people think we are nuts,” your dad wrote. (p. 111) The letter your dad wrote describing his parents’ less than lukewarm impressions of your mom, was hilarious. As you mention later in the book, he might have been a bit naive to have shared it with your mom, but reading it in ‘real time’ makes your dad all the more lovable.
I enjoyed so many ‘little things’ in the book: the pictures of your parents’ artistic handwriting. I liked the honesty. In one letter, your dad wrote he was “…a tad too spiritual.” He wanted to throw off legalism. (p. 52) The daily details of their experiences made me feel like I was on the journey with them, from your mom’s time at Prairie Bible Institute, (“Mr. Maxwell asked all to stand who have not won a soul” – p. 66, horrors! ), to her service in a tenement mission in New York City. Your dad’s name for his kids’ mission in the small Illinois river town, ‘Club 66′ was a funny misunderstanding between your mom and dad.
I knew some of your parents’ story. But reading their letters in “Devotedly” encouraged… no, encouraged is not a strong enough word. Jim and ‘Betts’ letters pulled me back up onto the path of trusting and seeking God while I wait for Him. The epilogue in your book spoke to me, too. After over five years of waiting on God, they married and settled in a house, following daily routines and continuing to follow God in Ecuador. When your dad died, his life maybe seemed ordinary: he left house, wife, and baby albeit in the midst of a jungle mission station. However, because of your parents’ faithful obedience and conscious intent to seek and wait on him, God’s plan to set the Aucas free with the Gospel was just beginning. And your dad’s last words to your mother, “Teach the believers, darling!” prophetically announced her life’s work.
Which has blessed me and many thousands more.
“Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”
– Frances Havergal
p.s. I was going to name my first baby girl “Valerie” but I had two boys!