Though None Go with Me, p.1Jerry B. Jenkins
BOOKS BY JERRY B. JENKINS
The Left Behind series, with Tim LaHaye
’Twas the Night Before
The Margo Mysteries
Though None Go with Me
Copyright © 2000 by Jerry B. Jenkins
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ePub Edition August 2009 ISBN: 978-0-310-86557-5
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Interior design by Michelle Espinoza
To Doug Barber, my friend,
an example of the believer in word and deed
Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two
Chapter Twenty Three
About The Publisher
Share Your Thoughts
The call that made Elisabeth cringe ever after at any ringing phone came just before midnight in the winter of her forty-fifth year.
Only the wealthy had extension phones in Three Rivers, Michigan, in 1945, and Elisabeth Grace LeRoy Bishop had not numbered herself among them for decades. Unsure how long the phone had been ringing, she ignored her slippers and tugged her robe on as she hurried stiff-legged toward the stairs. The hardwood creaked as her feet lost feeling on the icy floor. The thermometer outside the kitchen window had read nine below just hours before.
There was no one else to waken anymore in the big house on Kelsey Street. “Keep ringing, phone,” she whispered, “unless you bring bad news.”
At the bottom of the stairs Elisabeth breathed a prayer and picked up.
“Mother Bishop, it’s Joyce. We’ve had an accident.”
Elisabeth clutched her robe tight at her throat. Her daughter-in-law sounded calm enough, but …
“Tell me you didn’t lose the baby.”
“I’m fine, so I assume the baby is too.”
Elisabeth hardly wanted to ask. “And Bruce?”
She heard her own heart as Joyce hesitated. “Bruce seems okay, but he’s trapped in the car.”
“Oh, no! Did you—”
“The police are on their way.”
“Thank God. Where are you?”
“Not far. M—60. We were coming back from visiting—”
“At this hour? Joyce! You’re due in what? A month?”
“The road looked clear, but at the big curve over by—”
“I know where it is.”
“There was ice. We slid into the ditch. Bruce steered away from the water. He somehow swung back up onto the road, but we flipped over.”
“He seems fine, but the wheel and the dashboard have him pinned.”
“Please don’t. I’ll call you as soon as we get home. He didn’t even want me to tell you.”
“Just like him. How did you get out?”
“I crawled out the window. We weren’t far from a farmhouse. The people are so nice. I hated to wake them.”
“Call as soon as you know anything. And have someone check you over, honey.”
Elisabeth stood in the darkness of the living room, staring out at the streetlight on the corner. What a marvel, throwing off ten times the light of the gas lamps lit by hand, one by one at twilight, when she was a child. Back then a year could pass before she saw more than three automobiles. Now everyone had one. Some two. Imagine! Well, a flipped horse cart wouldn’t have trapped Bruce.
The weight of a lifetime of strife overcame Elisabeth, and she lowered herself to the floor, her face in her palms, the backs of her hands pressed against the gritty carpet. “Oh, God,” she began, “you have protected Bruce from so much. You must have great things in mind for him. He is completely yours. Let the police be your agents, and may they get there even now to rescue one who wants above all to serve you.”
Elisabeth would not sleep. She alternately paced and sat on the couch in the stillness.
Since childhood, prayer had been as natural to Elisabeth as breathing. And during that time, God had required much of her, allowing her to be tested until she was forced to rely solely upon him. Her underpinnings had been ripped away with such regularity that she had often been tempted to settle into a life that didn’t shake its fist in the Enemy’s face.
Elisabeth didn’t want to change her past. But as she shivered in the wee hours of a bitter morning, she struggled with God yet again, as she had so often before, over the safety of her son. She had accepted so much, suffered so much, given so much, that surely God would grant her deepest, most heartfelt wish now, would he not? Hadn’t everything in her life and Bruce’s pointed to her son being a living sacrifice?
She had long wondered whether there was any benefit, this side of heaven, for a lifetime commitment to obedience. Now, after years of service, of countless hours in the Word and in prayer, Elisabeth found herself at yet another crossroad. She had thought she understood grace, had told herself she understood sovereignty. But unless God spared her son, seemingly unhurt yet trapped in a twisted car on M-60 in the middle of a winter’s night, she feared there was something about God she still didn’t understand—and didn’t like.
Apart from a healthy birth,” Elisabeth’s father had told her, “no good news comes after dark.” He should have known. Tall and portly, Dr. James LeRoy was Three Rivers’s most popular general practitioner.
Her own birth, on the first day of the new century, had come after dark. Her father had told her the story so many times it was as if she remembered being there. “Your mother went into labor so quickly that I had to deliv
“Vera!” Elisabeth blurted.
“Yes. She was young and frail and worked hard to produce you, a healthy child. But her own vital signs—”
“She was sick.”
“And what did you do, Daddy?”
“Hmm. I’m not sure I recall.”
“Yes, you do! The bundling part.”
“Oh, yes. I bundled you in a blanket and allowed you to exercise your lungs in the parlor while I tried to save your mother.”
He nodded. “I begged her not to leave me, not to leave us. All she wanted was to talk about your middle name and her own epitaph. I pleaded with her to save her strength.”
“And what did she want you to call me, Daddy?”
“We had settled on Elisabeth, after her own mother,” he said. “It had seemed too soon to worry about a middle name.”
“But she thought of one.”
“Yes, sweetheart. ‘Call her Elisabeth Grace,’ she said, ‘after the grace that is greater than all our sin.’ And on her tombstone—”
“I know, Daddy. It says, ‘My hope is in the cross.’”
“If I hear that story one more time, I’m going to vomit!” first-grade classmate Frances Crawford hissed, shaking her ringlets. “All you talk about is your dead mother.”
Breath rushed from Elisabeth, and her eyes stung. “Little girls oughtn’t say ‘vomit,’” she managed. “Daddy says the proper word is ‘regurgitate,’ but at least say ‘throw up.’”
“‘Daddy says regurgicate’” Frances mocked.
“Regurgitate,” Elisabeth corrected, but Frances skipped away. Elisabeth pursued her. “You’re lucky you’ve got a mother!”
Frances stopped to face her. “Just quit bragging about your father and quit bein’ so—so—churchy!”
This time when Frances ran off, Elisabeth let her go. Churchy? They were in the same Sunday school class! But Elisabeth was churchy?
Three blocks from Dr. LeRoy’s rambling mansion on Hoffman Street—not far from Bonnie Castle—the slender steeple of Three Rivers Christ Church rose above the first ward. That pristine monolith, old as the church itself, came to serve as a reminder of God’s presence in Elisabeth’s life.
Her father had often recounted how she talked every day about going to Christ Church. She toddled along to play in the nursery when he attended Wednesday night prayer meetings, Sunday school, and morning and evening services. “You skipped on the way to church and tried to pull me along faster,” he said. “And once there, your eyes shone at the little sanctuary, the pictures on the wall, and every nook and cranny that seemed to offer something of God.”
Her father and his older, widowed sister, Agatha Erastus, raised Elisabeth. Aunt Agatha did not share their love of the church. “I cannot worship a god who would take my own daughter at birth and my husband in the prime of his life,” she often told her brother in Elisabeth’s hearing.
“You’re depriving yourself of God,” Dr. LeRoy said.
“Housework, cooking, and looking after your little one is more than fair trade for food and shelter,” she said. “Getting scolded is not part of the bargain.”
“I worry about you, Agatha,” he said. “That’s all.”
“Worry about yourself and your motherless child.”
“I thank God you’re here to help, but don’t be filling Elisabeth’s head with—”
“You’d do well to not associate God with my coming here, and when you start worrying about who’s filling your daughter’s head, start with the man in the mirror. I saw the reply from the last missionaries she tried to lecture.”
Elisabeth saw her father blanch. “I’ll thank you to keep out of my mail,” he said. “Now I’d like to be alone a while.”
“What’s she talking about, Daddy?” Elisabeth said. “We heard back from the missionaries?”
Her father hesitated. “Show her!” Agatha crowed. “You’re always telling her honesty is the best policy. Show her the effect she had on the missionaries.”
Dr. LeRoy waved his sister off, but Elisabeth followed her father into his study and insisted on seeing the letter. He sighed and handed it to her, but she could not read cursive writing. He read it to her.
“Dear Dr. LeRoy, my husband’s letter of thanks precedes this, so I trust you know we’re grateful for every kindness from you and from the church. I feel compelled, however, to exercise Matthew 18 and inform you that the letter from your daughter, well intentioned though it may have been, was offensive. For a six-year-old, and a girl at that, to take it upon herself to counsel us and admonish us to remain strong and true in our faith evidences naivete and impudence of the highest order …”
Her father had to explain what the words meant. “But I was just trying to ’courage them,” she said, tears welling.
“I know,” Dr. LeRoy said, gathering her into his arms. “People just don’t expect it from one as young as you.”
Elisabeth would be forever grateful for her father’s tutelage—prayer upon waking, prayer before every meal, prayer at bedtime, memorizing verses (thirty before she was five), and the recitation of the books of the Bible. Her dour and sour aunt was Elisabeth’s first evangelistic target. She prayed aloud at mealtime for Aunt Agatha’s soul, sang to her, even preached to her, setting up a tiny sanctuary of chairs, dragging in the milk box as a pulpit.
Fewer than a hundred people attended Christ Church in those days. Elisabeth knew them all, knew who belonged to whom and what they thought about her needing a mother. Many believed it unhealthy for a “pagan aunt” to raise her, while others knew just the right prospect for her father. But no one, Dr. LeRoy said, could ever replace Vera, and Elisabeth believed him with her whole heart. Though she wanted a mother as badly as she had ever wanted anything, no one could match her image of the mother she’d never known.
If Frances Crawford was sick of Elisabeth’s recitation of her birth story, she acted doubly ill when Elisabeth began reciting every Bible story by heart. Elisabeth identified with the children. Baby Moses. Young David. Samuel. The boy who gave his lunch to Jesus. The children Jesus called to himself. How she longed to be protected from harm, hidden in the bulrushes, to be brave, to be called of God, to give something to Jesus, to sit on his lap. When she asked her father about girl stories, he reminded her of Jairus’s daughter, whom Jesus raised from the dead.
“I want to be raised from the dead,” she said. “But I’d have to die first, wouldn’t I?”
Her father smiled sadly. “And I could not abide another loss.”
“But Jesus would give me back to you. He could give Mommy back to you.”
That made her father look sad.
Elisabeth loved everything about church, which made her frustrated by her own sin. After sitting through the stories and lessons in Sunday school, she strove to be perfect.
“Mine is better than yours,” Frances announced one morning, holding up her Sunday school drawing. Elisabeth found herself so angry she could not speak.
I hate you, she thought. You’re stupid and you’re wrong. Worse, Frances was not wrong, and Elisabeth felt the deep sting of jealousy. She ignored Frances the rest of the morning.
Back home she felt glum. She couldn’t imagine ever liking Frances again. “Daddy,” she said, “Frances doesn’t live in the first ward, does she?”
Elisabeth’s heart sank at her father’s squint. “What does that have to do with anything?” he asked.
“We’re richer, that’s all,” she said. “Right? Rich people live here and poor people live in the other wards.”
Her father set down his book. “Come here,” he said, welcoming her to his lap. Elisabeth felt guilty even sitting there. “We’re very fortunate to live in a fine home in a nice neighborhood,” he said. “But where someone lives and what that might say about their means has no place among friends. Where a
Elisabeth shook her head, embarrassed. She felt awful.
“Three Rivers was separated into four wards years ago so fire departments could be established in each one,” her father explained. “That way they didn’t have to worry about crossing the rivers or the railroad track. That these wards have become characterized by the level of income of their residents was hardly intended by the city fathers.” Elisabeth had little idea what her father was talking about, and it seemed he wanted to say more. When she looked the other way, he let her wriggle free.
She felt terrible for hours. To Elisabeth, even those things merely selfish or wasteful were wrong. But to hate her friend, to be jealous of her? Elisabeth worried that God would stop loving her, cast her out, send her to hell.
That night when her father tucked her in, her remorse burst from her in tears. “I want to be perfect! Why can’t I be?”
Elisabeth didn’t understand everything her father told her then about Jesus being perfect so she didn’t have to be. But she did believe that God would forgive her, and she couldn’t wait to apologize to Frances.
“You’re sorry for what?” her friend said the next day.
“For being jealous and thinking bad thoughts about you.”
“I didn’t even know.”
“But I did. And God did.”
“Um—Frances, did you feel bad about saying your drawing was better than mine?”
Frances made a face and shrugged. “It was.”
Elisabeth found school almost as exciting as church. She loved reading and learning and was drawn to her teachers. She craved their attention and approval. Nothing short of perfect marks satisfied her. Frances was not as good a reader and didn’t seem as smart, but still she sometimes got better grades. Elisabeth soon strove to compete rather than simply to learn.
Her life became frustrating. It wasn’t that she didn’t have a mother—she was used to that. She had a wonderful father, and she wanted to grow up to be a woman of God. But she didn’t get it. Why was it so hard? Why couldn’t she live only for God and not for herself? Why couldn’t she be what she knew God wanted her to be?
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