A Love Story: Lars and Elisabeth Elliot Gren, Part 1
About the Guest
Reminisce with us in this re-air of a previous broadcast as we hear an interview with the late Elisabeth Elliot Gren and her husband, Lars. Together they share how God introduced them and brought them together in marriage.
Reminisce with us as we hear a re-air of a previous interview with the late Elisabeth Elliot Gren and her husband, Lars. Together they share how God introduced them and brought them together in marriage.
Bob: Over the years, we have seen a lot of love stories played out on the big screen; but, in truth, there’s nothing that beats a real-life love story. That’s what we’re going to hear today—the real-life love story between Elisabeth Elliot Gren and her husband, Lars Gren.
[Dooley Wilson singing As Time Goes By]
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. Only a few of our listeners will know that that’s Dooley Wilson, from the movie, Casablanca, singing, As Time Goes By.
I think, as we get ready for Christmas, and as we reflect on a year that is about to pass, it is good for us to remember time that has gone by. That’s what we’re going to do today.
Dennis: We are. Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3 says, “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” It goes on to talk about “a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which has been planted, a time to kill and a time to heal,” and certainly “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” We thought, as we were going to conclude this year, that we would do the latter—we’d have some laughter about a great woman and a great man, who were married a number of years ago. Elisabeth Elliot Gren married Lars Gren, and it is truly a hoot of a story. I mean, it is a treat!
They visited with our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway speaker team, back in 1999. Someone had the foresight—probably it was you, Bob, to record this—because I laughed until I cried, listening to this woman of God, and a man who pursued her and won her heart. It’s a great story! That’s all I can say.
Bob: It is a great story and, of course, this is the year when we mourned / when we wept as we said, “Goodbye,” to Elisabeth, who gained the heavenly reward. It’s encouraging to know that we’ll get to laugh with her again someday. In fact, I have to tell you that one of the great revelations of getting to meet her and getting to know her was that she did love to laugh.
Dennis: Oh, she had a twinkle in her eye, Bob! [Laughter] You could see it! It was like the eye of the tiger, except with a grin.
Bob: Yes. Hearing her on the radio for years, she always sounded a bit stern; so to get to sit down with her and know—
Dennis: Well, don’t miss this, folks—she was very stern.
Bob: She was, but she also had a side of her that was just delightful and fun.
Dennis: She was not straight-laced, sober, and sad—she knew how to have a good time. You’re about to enter into a conversation we had with them as they shared their story of how they met and how they dated.
Bob: Some of our listeners may not know Elisabeth Elliot was married, for the first time, to her husband, Jim Elliot. He was martyred in Ecuador in 1956. She wrote about his martyrdom in the book, Through Gates of Splendor. She went on to write many other books, including Passion and Purity. She and her husband, Lars Gren, were married for more than three-and-a-half decades. It was a great love story.
[Previously Recorded Interview]
Dennis: Elisabeth, I want to ask you a question because we’ve all heard about Jim Elliot. We’ve seen his name posted and given credit to quote after quote, but husband number two—
—we just don’t know a lot about him. It’s a little bit like some of the missing books of the Bible or something; you know?—you just kind of wonder about him. Share with us a little bit about husband number two, if you would.
Elisabeth: Through a speaking engagement in Missouri, I met a man by the name of Addison Leach. He was the vice-president of a small college there, and his wife was actually dying of cancer. He had three daughters. He and I got acquainted because he asked me to come and speak for some things that he did in the summertime there at that college.
His wife was supposed to have died ten years before, according to the doctors; but she died about a year later. The following year, Addison Leach asked me to marry him—that was just totally unexpected. But he was 18 years older than I was; and four years later, he got cancer. About half a year after that, he died.
Well, while he was dying, I was taking care of him at home, after he had left the hospital. I got to the point where I really desperately needed somebody to help me because he was a big man, and he was totally helpless for the last few—about six weeks. I called the seminary, where my husband had been a professor—he was at Gordon Conwell Seminary—and asked if there was a young man that might be willing to come and live in my house and help me take care of my husband.
A young man applied for the job. He was to move in on the following Monday; and Monday, my husband died. So naturally, he assumed that he would not be needed. But I called the next day and said, “The room is ready for you if you’d like to come anyway.” So he moved in, whereupon it struck me that it doesn’t look too good for one lady and one gentleman to be living in a house together.
This gentleman happened to be considerably older than many of the other students; and, of course, I might have been old enough to be his mother.
But I thought, “Well, I better call the seminary to see if there was another young man that would be willing to come.” So two men came—lived in my house for two years. The first one married my daughter. [Laughter] The second one married me. [Laughter and applause]
And then my friend—a friend who had lost her husband when she was in her late 70’s—she had lost her one and only husband. She was from Texas; and she said [thick Texas accent], “'Elisabeth, I just want to know—how’d you ever get three husbands?” [Laughter] So I told her my story; and she said [thick accent], “I believe I’m going to rent my house out to three widowers.” [Laughter]
Bob: So you are an advocate then of living together before marriage?—right? [Laughter]
Elisabeth: I want you to know—I want you people to know that this gentleman—he is a southern gentleman. He never called me anything but “Mrs. Leach” the whole time he lived in my house. I mean, he was a gentleman; and so was Walt Shepard, who is now my son-in-law.
Bob: When you proposed, Lars, did you say, “Mrs. Leach, will you marry me?” [Laughter]
Lars: No, I’ll tell you—I thought about the first one—and the short marriage that he had—and the second one only doubled him—so I was weighing the possibility of mathematical progression and only really facing possibly eight more years of life. [Laughter] But I thought it was worth it—so I made the long, arduous trek that it was to convince Elisabeth that I really was serious about getting married.
And it was—Dennis would understand this—but I knew, from the very beginning, that I had to do it slowly. It was kind of like a bird dog after a covey. [Laughter] If the dog moves too quickly, they flush the covey; so I did it very, very slowly and steadily. [Laughter] I finally got there.
Dennis: Where did you go on your first date? Did you ever have a date?
Lars: Oh, yes, I guess. I would say we did, but Elisabeth says we didn’t. [Laughter] One of the nice things I always remember about it—she always enjoyed it because she always went to sleep on the way home in the car. [Laughter] I was thinking I had satisfied everything—so she just went, conk, to sleep. [Laughter] It was relaxing that way.
Bob: That’s great for your self-esteem; isn’t it? [Laughter]
Lars: Well, I never had any anyway. [Laughter] I can remember—I’ll tell you one nice thing. I still look at that place whenever we drive from the airport back home. There’s a little restaurant on the right-hand side of the road. I remember one time picking her up at the airport. I used to go in when she was out on a speaking engagement—and go in, sometimes, and offer my services to pick her up and all.
So this was a winter night and she was coming in. I had suggested we get a little bite to eat on the way home. She said, “Well, that’d be fine.” And now, her second husband also had given her this lovely winter coat—black/full-length—it’s not fur, but it looks pretty good. She was wearing that and boots. There was a little ice on the pavement.
I pulled in there and went around to open up the door; and she came out, you know. As we walked across, it was the first time she took my arm and we walked across there—I mean, I was about ten feet tall. [Laughter] We got into the restaurant. The booth we sat in—I can’t remember what we ate—but that was probably the beginning of realizing that I was heading down for a fall. [Laughter]
Elisabeth: That’s doubtful.
Lars: It was, you know. I just—we often look at that restaurant and I say: “Remember that? Remember where we sat in there?”
Lars: I probably built it up more than it was on her end. [Laughter]
Bob: Wait/wait! If that was the night for you, when was the night for you?
Lars: She claims—
Elisabeth: Years later. [Laughter] My mind—
Bob: Elisabeth, you strung him on?
Elisabeth: I wasn’t stringing him on. My mind was totally closed to the possibility. I thought, “This man could not possibly be serious.” He was just a very kind, polite, southern gentleman—he enjoyed living in my house. [Laughter] And, of course, I can’t—we haven’t got time to tell you the whole story; but I did kick him out, after the second year, because I had a sneaking suspicion that he did have a certain feeling for the landlady, which I thought was very inappropriate. [Laughter]
Lars: That was the first time I got mad at her too.
Elisabeth: Go ahead and tell about why.
Lars: Well, I mean, I might be dumb; but I wasn’t real stupid about the thing—[Laughter] —I knew what she was going to do.
It was morning and time to go to seminary. I was standing there, fixing a little bit of lunch. Elisabeth was over there, washing the dishes. We had our backs to each other and—I don’t know—I didn’t really see what she did. I’m sure she turned around; but all of a sudden, I just heard her say, “Lars, I believe you’d better find another place to live next year,”—it was toward the end of the school year. I don’t know if I said anything at all. I probably said, “Oh, alright,” or “Yes,” or something; but my blood pressure went sky high in about two seconds. I just got my lunch and walked out. I went up there and spent the day, then came on back to the house. I mean, she had every right to say so and tell me to go ahead and get out. I hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary, but I knew what she was talking about.
So I just went in. When I got back in, she was in the study. I knocked on the door and asked if I could see her for a minute. She said, “Come in.” We sat down; and I said: “You have every right to ask me to leave. There’s no problem in that, but I don’t appreciate the way you did it.” I said: “I’m not some kid coming out of high school here. I’ve been around a little bit; I’ve been in business. We do things in a more gracious manner.” [Laughter] Well, she just listened nicely and politely and thanked me for what I had to say. That was the end of it—we didn’t get into any discussion. She was smart about that! [Laughter]
Bob: So did you move out?
Lars: Sure. I moved out about a mile-and-a-half and kept going around, checking on her / seeing if I could do anything—you know, oil the hinges and fix the doorknob / take her to the airport
Dennis: So the bird dog was still on point? [Laughter]
Lars: Oh, yes; yes. The funniest thing was, we never—
Bob: Well, the covey hadn’t flown anywhere yet. [Laughter]
Lars: It was funny, Bob—you know, this is over four years / over a period of four years. You know, one time we’d be in a restaurant someplace, and someone would see us; and we’d be someplace else—but nothing ever was really said, except there was one little old gal from California who lived—when I moved out, I moved into a house, where they had about five students there. And this little girl—whenever I’d get ready to go out / I’d be dressed and heading out—for some reason, she was in the kitchen. As I’d leave, she’d say, “Say hello to old blue eyes,” [Laughter] and I’d never crack—I wouldn’t crack a smile. I just said, “Goodnight, Jackie.” She knew. She was the only one that—I don’t know how she figured it out, but she knew.
Dennis: Well, you’ve got to take us to the time you proposed.
Lars: You’re not going to like that. [Laughter] Well—[Laughter]
Dennis: You did propose; didn’t you?
Lars: Well, in a sort of way—
Elisabeth: I don’t think he can remember anything about it.
Lars: I really don’t remember what I said.
Elisabeth: I do. [Laughter]
Lars: Well; and that’s what makes me feel bad because, if I did say that, it’s not a real good way of doing it. [Laughter]
Bob: Wait, wait, wait! Four years of bird-dogging and you blow it at the big moment? Is that what you’re telling us?
Lars: Well, not exactly. I got her; didn’t I? [Laughter]
Well, rather than ask a question, I made a statement. I really didn’t expect her to say, “Yes,” or “No,” at that time; but I did want her to know that I was not playing games. And then I followed that by just saying that “I want you to be— I want you for a wife.” Isn’t that right?
Lars: “I want you for a wife.” So, I mean, it’s really not a great way to ask. [Laughter]
Elisabeth: I was just going to tell some of the things that had happened, in my mind, months before you actually—
Bob: Yes, please do.
Lars: I’d like to know too. [Laughter]
Elisabeth: He already knows. No, as I said, my mind was absolutely closed to the possibility of a third marriage.
As much as I liked Lars—I thought he was a delightful man and that somebody who would get Lars would be a very fortunate person—but I was not at all in the market for anything like that until, one day, we were just standing in the living room. He denies the possibility that he could have ever said this; but I know that was—ipsissima verba, exactly what he said to me that day. [Laughter]
Lars: She’s going to impress you with that one. [Laughter]
Elisabeth: He said, “I would like to be the one building the fences around you, and I want to stand on all sides.”
Bob: Whoa! [Applause]
Elisabeth: Now that totally transformed my vision of who this man was.
I mean, it was obviously a moment of inspiration / God-given inspiration because he can’t remember it / he doesn’t believe it. I said, “Look, I couldn’t have made it up.”
Bob: What was that again?—“I want to be the one—[Laughter]
Elisabeth: “…building the fences…”
Bob: That’s smooth, man!
Elisabeth: Well, anyway, the next thing / the next straw in the wind—I didn’t say anything—but it was just as if I’d flip-flopped as far as my vision of this man because, very shortly thereafter, I was convicted by the fact that God was saying to me: “You have not asked Me one thing about this. You just made up your mind that you were going to stay single the rest of your life.” Well, then I had to get down on my knees and repent and say: “Well, you know, Lord, I want to do what You want me to do,” and “How could I possibly have failed to, at least, mention this in prayer?” I then opened my Bible, and to my utter astonishment—
Well, I have to say, before I tell you that, that I was constantly comparing Jim Elliot to Addison Leach.
Jim could do a lot of things Ad couldn’t do; Ad could do things Jim couldn’t do. Lars could do a lot of things that Ad and Jim couldn’t do—I was making these odious comparisons. I opened my Bible and, lo and behold, it was staring me in the face: “Men have different gifts, but it is the same Lord who accomplishes His purposes through them all.”
Dennis: Oh, my!
Elisabeth: And not too long after that, one more amazing thing. This is just a concatenation of amazing illustrations of how God moves in mysterious ways.
Lars: It’s a what?! [Laughter]
Elisabeth: I had an opportunity—[Laughter continues]
Dennis: Hold it! [Laughter]
What did you say, Lars?
Lars: It’s a what? [Laughter]
Bob: A concatenation! Don’t you speak English? That’s plain and simple English—concatenation! [Laughter]
Elisabeth: I don’t know any synonyms for that; do you?
Bob: I don’t either; no. [Laughter] I don’t know any antonyms / I don’t know any words that rhyme with it! [Laughter]
Lars: I try to avoid it myself! [Laughter]
Dennis: It’s too bad radio isn’t TV, Bob.
Bob: Oh, that’s right! I hate to even break in here—this leaves kind of a cliffhanger—but it’s such a delight to hear both of them, again, sharing what was really a wonderful love story.
Dennis: This kind of reminds me of the Speck stories I tell my grandkids, which have this adventure they go on. Right at the brink of some life-threatening adventure, I pause and I say, “And you’ll have to wait until tomorrow night for the rest of the story.”
Bob: “No, Grandpa!”
Dennis: “You can’t do that! No way! No way!”—but they love it.
You’re going to love it, too, when you hear the rest of this story as well.
Bob: And I hope that, if you have young people at home, and if they’ve had a chance to listen to any of this, that you’ll get them a copy of Elisabeth Elliot’s classic book called Passion and Purity, which was updated back a couple of years ago. This is a counter-cultural book. It’s back to what David Platt talked about, earlier this week, on FamilyLife Today. This is a book that brings home the issue of purity—
—written in the 1970s—but it addresses the issue of purity in a timeless way because it deals with what the Bible has to say about having pure hearts, and pure minds, and pure bodies as we approach love, and dating, and intimacy, and how all of that is supposed to work together by God’s design.
You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about Elisabeth Elliot’s classic book, Passion and Purity, and order a copy from us online if you’d like at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” We can get a copy of the book sent to you. Again, the title of the book is Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot. It’s a classic. If it’s not something you’ve read, or if you’ve never encouraged your teenager to read this book, this would be a great book for them to dig into during their teen years.
And just before we wrap up, Dennis, I want to remind our regular listeners about the matching-gift challenge that has been made during the month of December.
Some friends of the ministry came to us and said they wanted to encourage FamilyLife Today listeners to help support our program. So they agreed that, every dollar that a listener donates during the month of December, they’re going to contribute two additional dollars to support the ministry. If you give a $50 donation, these friends will kick in another $100 to make it a total of $150 in support of FamilyLife. They’ve agreed to do this up to a total of $5 million.
We have until next week / until New Year’s Eve to take advantage of this matching-gift opportunity. Would you consider making a yearend contribution to FamilyLife Today? Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—you can donate online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone. Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
And be sure to join us back tomorrow as we’ll hear Part Two of our conversation with Lars and Elisabeth Elliot Gren—as we get a glimpse into what was their love story. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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©Song: As Time Goes By
Artist: Dooley Wilson
Album: As Time Goes By / Single, (p) 2011 Bacci Bros. Records
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