Two weeks ago I learned of the death of Edith Schaeffer. I don’t know how I missed this information, but at the age of 98, Edith died on March 30. My life has been directly influenced by the writings of Edith and this post honors this remarkable woman. (In case you don’t know, Edith is the wife of the late Francis Schaeffer—writer, speaker, theologian—and together the two of them started L’Abri.
I was in my twenties when my mom handed me her copy of The Hidden Art of Homemaking, a book I have written about before on this blog. Her book started me on my path of encountering God in the everyday. Edith seamlessly integrated her faith into all areas of her life and this delighted me. She wrote about eating, gardening, walking, cooking, talking, and God all in the same mix. I loved it! Edith’s writings gave me the permission I needed to think differently about my relationship with God, creation, and the ordinary. Since my initial reading of the book, I have probably read the book five more times. I return to it whenever I need a “refresher” on why the everyday matters.
In 1998 Brad and I had the opportunity to attend a L’Abri conference in Rochester, MN. Guess who one of the speakers was? You got it, Edith. I met her briefly at the conference and she autographed two of my books. When L’Abri was just beginning, Edith wrote letters to her family, describing the details of her family’s life in Europe. These letters took on a life of their own and were copied and sent to others who were interested in the work of the Schaeffers. Later With Love, Edith and Dear Family became books, where these letters filled the pages. When I met Edith on that February day, she was dressed in all black and already moved slowly and traveled with an assistant to help her with walking, etc. As I sat next to her, wanting to know how she did all she did with small children and making EVERYTHING BY HAND, I found myself somewhat tongue-tied. I can’t even remember what I asked her. What impressed me was her autograph. She didn’t simply sign my book; she drew a picture and wrote a little letter to Brad and me. On the cover page of With Love, Edith she drew a picture of a tall mountain with birds flying, mimicking the Swiss Alps. She wrote, “Dear Brad and Alicia, with thankfulness that books can go on talking! I pray that these books will be a practical help. Lovingly in The Creator, Edith Schaeffer.” In Dear Family, she drew a picture of a candle and wrote, “Dear Brad and Alicia, letters are the best way to keep memories—but also for developing your writing!! With love, Edith Schaeffer.” Can you believe it? The one part of our conversation that I do remember was her asking her assistant what time it was. The assistant told her it was 4 pm. She immediately responded with, “I knew it must be time for tea. I have a spot in my back that is tired and needs refreshing.”
I wish I could have experienced High Tea at Edith’s house. She developed quite a reputation for her teas and over the years I have talked with others who happened to be at the Swiss L’Abri when Edith gave her teas. Everything was homemade and the attention to detail unmatched. Edith imbued the ordinary with meaning and significance.
I know she wasn’t a perfect woman. When I was a young mom at home with two children, I often felt like Edith’s standards were too exacting and unattainable. She rarely slept more than four hours a night and some would say her level of activity bordered on the manic side of the spectrum. Yet, I will be forever grateful for this woman who shaped so much of what I think about the ordinary and the spiritual. It is my hope that she will be in charge of High Tea in heaven and then I will have the opportunity to enjoy one of her teas.