Thursday, February 17, 2011

Love, Duty, and Honor

While we are speaking of great loves, I offer you another: Martha and George Washington. They were an unlikely pair. Physically they were almost laughable: he, 6’4” and she around 5’. He, tall and lanky and she, plump. That’s our image of her; a pudgy woman wearing a funny hat, walking in George’s shadow.

How untrue! Yes, she grew pudgy, and the odd cap was the fashion--and worn to make her look taller, but George called her “my other self.” I’d melt if my husband called me that!

A modern rendition of how
Martha might have looked
 When George and Martha met, she was a pretty twenty-six-year-old widow—the richest widow in Virginia. She’d married Daniel Custis when she was nineteen and together they ran the White House plantation in New Kent County, Virginia; near Richmond and Williamsburg (the name of the plantation is a bit ironic, don’t you think? And it was massive: 17,000 acres.

They had four children, but two died. And then Daniel died, leaving Martha with four-year-old Jacky and 18-month old, Patsy. She was sought after by many suitors but she vowed if she married again she would marry for love. For though she had loved the 38-year-old Daniel Custis in a fashion, it had been a marriage of respect rather than passion. She also vowed to marry a man nearer her own age. She didn’t want to be widowed twice.

One weekend when she and the children were staying over at a neighbor’s estate, a dashing young hero of the French and Indian war happened by. George Washington stayed for dinner. He and Martha hit it off and stayed up all night talking. In hindsight the bond has God’s hand all over it.

Mt. Vernon
 Soon after, they became betrothed, then married at White House in 1759. Martha heard the rumors that George was marrying her for her money—and knew it was partially true. George had a small plantation (1700 acres) up north. He had big dreams for Mt. Vernon. Martha was excited about the prospect of working together as a couple to achieve those dreams.

The one regret Martha had about their marriage was that she didn’t let George fully be a father to her children. She over-indulged them and Jacky grew to be wild and nearly unmanageable. And sadly, she and George never had any children of their own. I often wonder why God didn’t allow this great man—this great couple—to have heirs.

George and Martha had ten “golden years” at Mt. Vernon, but the unrest between the Colonies and their mother country, England, heightened to the point that a stand had to be made. It was war. And George, with his military experience and his reputation as an honorable man who was liked by people of all locales and walks of life, was the perfect choice to lead the army.

When the fighting started in New England, George left Martha at Mt. Vernon, to do his duty. The war did not go well. The colonists were out maneuvered, out financed, out trained… yet they felt in their hearts that theirs was a worthy cause. And they felt God was on their side.
In the winter, when both sides hunkered down to wait for spring, George had to stay up north. If he left, the American troops were more than willing to go home to their shops and farms. For eight years he remained away from Mt. Vernon.

So what did Martha do? Every winter she traveled up north and joined George in the camps: Morristown, Valley Forge . . . the conditions were horrible, the supplies scarce. She brought as many supplies as she could from Mt. Vernon. And she sat by the soldiers, held their hands, listened to their stories of home and family, and prayed with them. They came to anticipate the visits of Lady Washington.

But even more than this, Martha was there for George. She was his sounding board, his comforter, his other self. They were a pair ideally suited to each other and the situation at hand.

President and Mrs. Washington and two
of their grandchildren
When the war was finally over a new government had to be formed—from scratch. For this new United States of America didn’t want to do things the old way with kings and queens. They wanted to create a new and better way of government. They decided there would be a president elected by the people. And again, who better to bridge the disparity of this wide-spread country of independent-minded people than the man who had led them to victory.

Martha did not want George to be president. Hadn’t he—hadn’t they—sacrificed enough? Duty was all well and good, but didn’t there come a time when a couple could let others lead?

Martha disliked the eight years of George’s presidency. There was much upheaval because everything was new, everything had to be created from nothing. When it was finally time to go back to Mt. Vernon, they both relished the time alone under their own “vine and fig tree.” And yet they were not alone. During the first year they had over 600 overnight guests. I can imagine Martha shaking her head as another stranger knocked on their door. “Set another plate for dinner…”

It’s said that without George Washington there would be no United States, but without Martha, there would be no George Washington. She was not a woman in his shadow, but his partner, standing right there, by his side.

If you’d like to read more of Martha’s story, read my biographical novel, Washington’s Lady. //Nancy

Monday, February 14, 2011

1650 Bedford, England and Jody Hedlund, author of The Preacher's Bride

A word from Stephanie:
 When I received The Preacher's Bride as a Christmas gift, I had no idea what a wonderful reading experience I was in for. True confession: I'm not really inclined towards the Puritans, and I haven't read Pilgrim's Progress, so I might not have chosen this book without a little nudge.
 I've learned my lesson. Give something new a try ... especially if its about something old :-).

   The Preacher's Bride teaches wonderful biblical truths. In fact, not long ago I read a couple of passages aloud to someone going through a tough time, because those passages encouraged me so very much.

  I loved this book so much that I e-mailed the author to see if she would drop by Footnotes and share her novel inspiration from history. I hope you enjoy what she shares. I know you'll enjoy The Preacher's Bride. --Stephanie
 What artifact, place, historical event, or woman from history made you want to write this book?
When I was reading about John Bunyan (the author of Pilgrim’s Progress), I ran across the story about how his second wife, Elizabeth, bravely defended him in front of a court of judges after he’d been accused of unlicensed preaching.
I loved her courage and determination, and I decided I wanted to tell her story to the world. So much is known about some of the great heroes of the faith, but so little is told of the incredible women who stood by their sides and helped shape them into the men they became.
How much of your book is based on true history and how much did you add?
The Preacher’s Bride is inspired by the relationship of John Bunyan and Elizabeth. In telling the story, I drew from numerous biographies as well as some of the books John wrote (including Pilgrim’s Progress). I developed the story around what we know (the facts), even adding in famous quotes of John Bunyan throughout the book.
Then I filled in the details of what isn’t known about the couple. For Elizabeth, that ended up being quite a bit since not much is written about her. While I had to develop her family and history, I was able to use almost all of the words she spoke at John’s trial at the end of The Preacher’s Bride which showcased her incredible inner strength as well as devotion to John.
What was the most romantic thing you learned about “the real story” while researching this book?
At the end of his life, John Bunyan wrote this in a deed, “The natural affection and love which I have and bear into my well-beloved wife, Elizabeth.” I thought his words were so romantic, especially after years of marriage. It just showed how much they’d grown to love and appreciate each other over the years.
What one non-fiction book helped you research the most (for those who want to learn more)?
While doing research for The Preacher’s Bride, I read an incredibly insightful and well-written book about the Puritans called, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Leland Ryken. It provided a treasure chest of information about Puritan life as well as numerous quotes that were inspiring and challenging to my own faith.
One of the things that I found the most fascinating about Puritan life was the emphasis they put on family worship time. This was an integral part of their everyday lives and Fathers took seriously the call to lead their family’s spiritual instruction
What spiritual encouragement did you draw from what you’ve learned?
God wants to use our hardships to develop our holiness. The message developed as I wrote, really piggy-backing off the message of Pilgrim’s Progress—that the hard path leads to holiness. Christian, in Pilgrim’s Progress learned that the easy way is often Satan’s way of tempting us away from what God is calling us to. I wanted to portray that message in the lives of John and Elizabeth too.
Visit author Jody Hedlund at:

Friday, February 4, 2011

How Do I Love Thee?

In this month devoted to romantic love, I want to share a love story that was as unlikely as it was destined…

Elizabeth Barrett

Elizabeth Barrett was the oldest child in a family of twelve children. Her father had sugar plantations in Jamaica (which used slave labor) but chose to live in England. He built a whimsical house for his family in Herefordshire and called it Hope End. It was very isolated, and in retrospect, it seems like he enjoyed being the end-all to his family, and keeping them from mingling too much in society. The family was happy—if not eccentric. The children were schooled at home and even the girls were encouraged in their studies—rare in the 1820’s. Elizabeth (known as “Ba” to her family) was delicate and struggled with her health, but she was gifted in regard to poetry. All was well until her mother and brother died.

Those tragedies changed everything, and the family moved to Wimpole Street in London, where the tone of their lives became constricted and even oppressive. Their father proclaimed that none of his children could marry.

For the most part, the children abided by his wishes, and remained loyal, though not always complacent. The power he had over them was unhealthy and rather frightening.

Robert Browning

In London, Ba took up residence in the top floor of the house amid her books, her pen, and her beloved spaniel, Flush. She had literary success, getting many of her epic poems published, and had a close group of writer friends who came to call, sharing their work, their ambition, and their inspiration. Virtually an invalid, Ba contented herself with this odd life, hidden away from the world beyond her family.

That is, until she received a letter from a younger author, Robert Browning: “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett...” So began a correspondence that led to much more. Much, much more. At the mature age of 38, Elizabeth Barrett, a woman who never imagined romance, found herself in love with a man who adored her. Her love for Robert flowed from her pen:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

The poem, whose first lines are still known today--150 years after they were penned--was not written for publication, but simply as an emotional release. That fact alone, gives the words special meaning.

And yet, because of this love, because of her father’s oppression, Elizabeth's love of Robert had to remain a secret. And yet, because of the strength of their love, Elizabeth gained the courage she needed to break free.

But the cost was great...

Isn’t that the way of all great love? To love is to sacrifice, is to choose we instead of me. To love is to risk everything, for there are no guarantees. Loving is hard. It’s a decision. It’s surrender. But as the Bible says, “Three things will last forever--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13: 13.) What God has joined together, let no man put asunder . . .

If you’d like to read a novel about Elizabeth’s life and love, read my biographical novel, How Do I Love Thee?   Their love story is ever so poignant, even moreso because it was real.//Nancy Moser