Grace Livingston Hill, as we know her. She was one to know and never forget.
One of my strongest beliefs is that I can always always always learn something from someone that God brings into my life. During the summers of my teenage years I spent a lot of time reading Grace Livingston Hills books and still enjoy re-reading them to this day. Recently I learned that Grace was a widow and decided to see if I could find an accurately written biography. Robert Munce, who was her youngest grandson, shared her story in his book entitled Grace Livingston Hill.
Never has it been more obvious than in the last 6 years that God has every detail in our lives orchestrated before we are born. Nothing that happens takes Him by surprise. This truth is easy to see in the way that Grace’s life began and how it unfolded until the day of her transition from earth to heaven. She was raised in a home where faith and trust in God for even the littlest things were modeled and lived out before her. Both of her parents loved God, loved to write and Grace found herself loving to pour her thoughts out in word. All of this helped her to develop a strong relationship with the Lord that prepared her for her marriage to Frank Hill.
It wasn’t until twenty-five years after their marriage that Grace opened up to her daughters about the battle that Frank had during his lifetime. He had terrible headaches during his college years and was prescribed morphine tablets without being told that they were additive. There was little understanding of addiction in 1892 and no rehab centers even existed. He hid his struggle from Grace until after they were married. Frank was a pastor who deeply loved the Lord and the people he was shepherding. He was so ashamed of his addiction as he told Grace, “I’ve spent years thinking about this and I feel that as long as I’m able, I will preach and teach God’s Word and leave my personal problems in His hands. This horrible flaw in my life has helped me to understand the struggles and heartbreak in the lives of other people, and I’m sure I’m much more patient with people than I would have been had I not been plagued with this problem.”
Seven years after Grace and Frank were married, Frank died after surgery on an infected appendix leaving Grace as a widow in her thirties with two little girls to raise.
Grace felt her life had been shattered, yet she knew that in the bad, as well as the good, God had a purpose for each of His children. Still, life seemed very dark. It was a perplexing situation. She did not earn enough money from her writing to support the family. The home was the property of the church, so she had to find another home as soon as possible. The job market was bleak. There were few career jobs that would allow a woman to support a family, and Grace was not trained in any of them. The greatest pain was not the future with all its uncertainties, but the thought of a future without the love and support and companionship of Frank. Every time she thought of it, it seemed like a cold, black wave a hundred feet high was falling on her and crushing her soul.
Writing was what Grace knew and what God used to support not only her and her young daughters but her mother who became a widow less than eight months after Grace.
As Grace was churning out new books, she was fighting a spiritual battle with depression, but found victory and relief in prayer and Bible study. There was one point where she was told by her publisher “No more preachy Sunday school stuff in your manuscripts. It won’t sell to the wider audience that you are now reach to reach. Good moral principles, good winning over evil, all those things are find. But no gospel!” This was a hard blow and with God’s help she developed strategies that would make all of her goals a reality.
At one point in her widow life, Grace was very lonely and considered marriage again. She met a man who was fifteen years younger and he proposed marriage to her. After consulting several of her close friends, who all advised her not to marry, she felt that marriage was the right thing to do to provide a father and music teacher for her two daughters. This decision caused her, her daughters and her mother to go through ten years of verbal abuse with a man who never contributed a dime to support them. He finally left Grace and went back home to live with his parents. Their marriage ended in divorce.
While on a trip through New England’s beautiful countryside, Grace viewed a hillside covered completely with lovely blue flowers. Her friend told her that the flowers were called Blue Ruin because they take over causing nothing else to grow and ruin everything. Those flowers reminded Grace of her own life during her second marriage and gave her the title for another book.
After a time, Grace earned enough money to buy a small stone home with three bedrooms that later became her ongoing project turning into a large fourteen room house. Her home became a place where others could socialize, play music, talk about anything and everything, be discipled and spiritually mentored – a place of learning and respite.
As the only child, Grace had a strong sense of family and a strong desire to keep her family unit living together in her big house. The attachment Grace had to her two daughters continued even after they married and this caused friction between them. Her daughters and their husbands obliged her for a time and lived there with her until God directed them to leave. At first Grace strongly opposed their decision, but, in time, she realized that God had other plans for their lives that didn’t include keeping everyone together in her home.
Because Grace let go of her own plans for her children and allowed God to direct them, she became a tremendous influence not only on her daughters and their husbands but on her grandchildren.
At the earliest age I (her adopted grandson) can remember the love, reverence, and respect we all had for her was generated by her work ethic which made her so productive, while still fulfilling her responsibilities to God and her family. Her unbounded energy was infectious and made even the youngest of us want to perform at our highest levels. But far more valuable was the underlying peace that was instilled in us, because we all learned early that the Lord Jesus should be sovereign in our lives.
Grace was in high demand and continued her speaking engagements until she reached the age of 79. At the age of 81 she published her last book – #79. That book was written while she was very ill. Her memory was fading, but would come alive from time to time. She would write awhile and then lie down to rest before getting up again to continue typing out her last story.
Much might be said in praise of Grace Livingston Hill, for millions blessed her for the work which she had performed. They blessed her for her fine writing, they blessed her for her personal ministry to them, and they blessed her for being a friend and a mother. But if she could speak to us this afternoon from Glory, she would bid us lift our voices in praise of another — she would tell us about Jesus. If Grace were here to comment about her own work today, she would probably simply say, “Thank you, Lord, for using me.”
Living life as a widow is not easy. In fact, it’s hard. Yet, if we keep our eyes on Jesus, our hearts in tune with His, our wills submitted to His plan, there can be a peace that passes all understanding. There can be joy mixed in with our grief and sorrow. God wants to use us if we will allow Him to do that. My mother used to tell me, “God is a gentleman and will not force His ways nor His will on us“. I want to be able to look back on my time as a widow and see that it wasn’t for naught.