Title: Being Elisabeth Elliot
Author: Ellen Vaughn
Sequel to Becoming Elisabeth Elliot
Major Themes: Biographies, Missionaries, Authors
Synopsis: The engaging, well-written biography of Elisabeth Elliot’s life from the time she returned to the US in 1963 until her death in 2015.
Several years ago, I really appreciated reading Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. It became one of my top favorite books for the year, so when I saw that Being Elisabeth Elliot was coming out, I knew I wanted to read it, as well. I’ve grown to value a lot of what I’ve seen from Elisabeth Elliot’s pen over the years, and even though I might not agree with all of her life choices, she was a woman who allowed God to use her—and who stuck to her convictions even when they were unpopular or uncomfortable.
This book covers Elisabeth’s life from when she moved from the jungle back to the US, right through to her death in 2015. I was surprised by how relatively short her time as a missionary was, compared to the rest of her life—since that part of her life is so well-known, I thought it lasted longer than it actually did. This book spends quite a while discussing her development as an author, from the time she arrived in the US with her young daughter, Valerie, up until her marriage to Addison Leach. As a writer myself, I found that section quite interesting. Her triumphs and trials in writing—as well as the controversial reception of her books No Graven Image and Furnace of the Lord—were both encouraging and challenging. She was determined to speak the truth no matter what (sometimes in love, sometimes not), and in the process, I believe, she both challenged and encouraged a lot of people. It made me wonder, are we willing to stick our necks out and speak the truth when we feel that is required of us? After her struggles, trials, and adventures in the writing and speaking realms, Elisabeth met and fell in love with her second husband, Addison Leach. Their happy marriage was cut short by his battle with cancer, which was described in these pages. Then came her ongoing work as an author and eventual marriage to Lars Gren.
There’s a reason why I love biographies like Being Elisabeth Elliot. Books of this caliber cause us to slow down and think, not just about the story of the person we’re reading about, but also about our lives, and the ways their story applies to our story. I was able to relate to Elisabeth on many levels, and watching her work through different experiences and trials was an encouragement to my faith. Even though I don’t agree with all of her choices, in the end, she was a human being who genuinely wanted to serve the Lord. In that, I found someone I can respect and learn from. I greatly admire her courage; at a time when many of her opinions were contrary to popular Christian rhetoric, she persisted in sharing what she thought was right. And today, her thoughts and observations came to me as a breath of fresh air.
This biography is much more than just a glimpse into one famous Christian’s life. It’s the story of a family—of Elisabeth, yes, and her second husband Addison Leach, of her daughter Valerie and Valerie’s husband Walt Shepard, of Elisabeth’s third husband Lars Gren, and the many people that slid in and out of Elisabeth’s life over many, many years. This is a portrait of the 60s, 70s, and 80s that, as a Gen Z-er (is that even a word?), I rarely get a glimpse of other than in books I read. It’s fascinating to see what the Christian scene looked like 40–60 years ago, and how much has changed—and hasn’t changed!—in that time.
If you enjoy books that challenge and inspire you, I’d highly recommend this book. There is much to glean from works like this, and I know my life has been enriched by reading it. This isn’t a fast or necessarily easy read, but it’s well worth taking the time for! I hope I can get a copy of my own someday, and until then, I’ll be keeping an eye out for more Ellen Vaughn books—they are keepers!
I was given a complimentary copy of this book, and this is my honest opinion of it.
WARNING: Hell or “to hell with” is used as an expression in ch. 4 and 22; “by golly” is used in ch. 4; “for God’s sake” is used in ch. 6; damn is used in ch. 8; “devil take the” is used in ch. 10; someone is called a “pompous ass” in ch. 16; “in heaven’s name” is used in ch. 19; gadzooks is used in ch. 21; goodness is used in ch. 23; someone says “Dear Christ” in a way that doesn’t seem very God-glorifying in ch. 30, and “Oh, my Lord!” is used in ch. 31; “for heaven’s sake” is used in ch. 30; and there is lying in ch. 31.
In ch. 4, there is a story of a man who was murdered, a man talks about going to a nudist colony (some description), there is a description of President Kennedy being shot, and a mention of another man who died. Ch. 7 talks about unmarried couples who slept together, people who struggled with same-gender attraction, and sex is mentioned later. In ch. 8, there is a description of a man dying. In ch. 10, there is a mention of “menstruation and life changes”. In ch. 11, there is a description of how Hemingway committed suicide, a very gory quotation from a poem about a naked woman who was killed and her body mutilated, and a mention from Elisabeth’s time with the Waodani of a woman’s clothing not covering everything. In ch. 12, there is a mention of a woman who committed suicide and a man who was killed by a land mine. In ch. 13, there is a description of a man’s death. In ch. 15, people sunbathe in the nude, and a married man kisses a woman he isn’t married to. There is a short description of the Israeli Six-Day War in ch. 17. In ch. 19, drugs and sex are referred to. In ch. 20, there is a mention of a man wanting to sleep with a woman he wasn’t married to and of a man who was shot and killed. In ch. 22, a married man kisses a woman he isn’t married to. In ch. 23, there are several mentions of marital intimacy and a mention of a woman getting her period. Sex is mentioned in ch. 24. From ch. 26–29, there are frank descriptions of Elisabeth’s husband Addison’s battle with the cancer that finally took his life, and some of the treatments he endured. Being tempted toward suicide is mentioned in ch. 26 and 27. In ch. 27, there is a mention of a woman who committed suicide. Add dies in ch. 29. In ch. 30, there is a mention of sleeping together and a gruesome description of a man who had been shot and killed. In ch. 31, there is the story of a man who lived a wild life, drank a lot, and got in a horrific accident. There is a mention of a friend who died in ch. 32, and someone who divorced. In ch. 34, a woman tells about her husband living with another woman. In ch. 35, there are several mentions of “sex life”, as Elisabeth pondered how to conquer her thoughts on the issue. In ch. 37, a man puts his arms around a woman he isn’t married to. In ch. 38, there is a mention of a man’s death, as well as Elisabeth’s death. There are mentions of smoking and social drinking throughout the book. Elisabeth’s third husband was divorced before he married her.