Author’s Note: All my sisters in Christ are Servant Girls, and we’ve all been given God’s stories to tell. I’m grateful to be able to write to you over the next few weeks about Susan Elder. We sat at her home one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago and talked about how she met Jesus and some of the valleys He’s carried her through. It is my pleasure to continue Susan’s story…
“I have a habit of fasting at least one day a week,” Susan explained as we sat on the couch in the den of her home, continuing our conversation about her faith-journey. “It’s a good thing for Christians to do. God’s voice is very clear when I fast. But, the Lord was silent that particular day,” she confessed. “Sometimes He is, so I wasn’t terribly concerned.”
It was early in 2007, and after 16 years working for the company that brought his family to Monroe from Tennessee, Susan’s husband Steve was laid off from his job.
Susan was on a water fast that day and began going to the Lord about Steve’s job.
She described to me a Friday morning. Jenny, their middle daughter, was living at home at the time.
“I heard her throwing up about 6 that morning and asked her if she was ok. She responded that she was very sick. We worried she might be getting the flu since it was flu season,” Susan recalled. “Jenny taught at Hemby Bridge Elementary, and there’s always something going around a school. She’d suffered from a headache since she got home from school Wednesday of that week and stayed home on Thursday because she still felt bad. By the end of the day Thursday, she didn’t feel any better, so she had already called the school to say she’d miss Friday as well.”
Jenny, 29 at the time, was working on her Masters of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Steve and Susan’s older daughter, Vickie, lived in Pennsylvania, and Stephanie, their youngest daughter and a registered nurse, was currently staying home with her infant son.
Stephanie, Jenny, and Vickie – Susan and Steve’s daughters. Image used with permission from Susan Elder.
Leaving Jenny to rest at home, Steve and Susan went to the store to get some bland foods their daughter might be able to eat. When they got back home, they found her in a worsened condition.
“Well, she lay on a couch that was sitting over there,” Susan said, and she pointed to the front of the room. “There was something about the way she was lying there. It just wasn’t right,” Susan told me.
Susan and Steve got Jenny into the car and went to urgent care.
“The only thing I remember her saying while we were in the car was that her head hurt very badly,” Susan explained. “The doctor that saw her at the urgent care told me to get her to the ER for more testing.”
Steve and Susan contacted Stephanie and her husband, TJ who were signing papers on a house that day. Everyone planned to meet at the emergency room.
“Stephanie was grieved that she wasn’t there sooner,” Susan explained. “But later I understood that the Lord moved Stephanie and TJ, who was a PA, out of the way because it was Jenny’s time to be with Him.”
It took a long time for the ambulance to come even though it was across the street. But, the urgent care doctor insisted that they wait, so they did. When Jenny finally got to the ER, she was immediately rushed to a room.
Then, there was more waiting.
Susan prayed, “Lord, you gave her to us. She’s yours. I want you to heal her but your will be done.”
Finally, doctors offered an explanation. Jenny suffered an aneurysm that was most likely congenital.
Around 7 o’clock that evening, Jenny was transported by helicopter from the local ER to CMC Main in Charlotte. At the hospital, the family found that the attending nurse was a member of Jenny’s Sunday school class. The nurse immediately called the class to start a prayer chain.
“At 11 that night, the neurosurgeon told us, ‘we can’t do anything.’ But in my mind, I said, ‘God can.’ So, they put her on life support.” Susan paused for a moment and gathered herself. Then, she gave me that smile that Susan has. If you know her, you know the one I mean. That calm, serene expression that can only be worn by someone who walks daily with God and has experienced the grace and mercy of Jesus. It isn’t necessarily a ‘happy-happy’ smile, but it is a smile full of joy.
“I was optimistic the whole time,” Susan said. “We prayed for complete healing all day and all night. Everyone did. Our life group and our church family prayed. People at Jenny’s school prayed. I said, ‘Lord, heal her completely,’ because I knew that He could.”
Susan paused a moment. I stopped writing. The fan still whirred overhead. The sun still filtered through the windows.
She went on to describe the next day and the people who came to the hospital to support and pray with them while they waited: members of theirs and Jenny’s Sunday school classes, Jenny’s coworkers, Jenny’s sisters.
“That evening, about 7:30, Jenny’s doctors gathered the family around and said they wanted to remove life support for about 15 minutes to check for brain function. Stephanie asked if she could be the one to turn off the machine. She felt like she should do this for her sister rather than letting a stranger do it. Well, they agreed, and I left the room because I didn’t want to see it, but Vickie stayed, too. Then, Stephanie turned off the machine. After a few moments, when they were sure there was no brain activity, she stopped breathing, and her heart stopped, and the doctors pronounced her dead at 8:00 pm. It was March 1, 2007.”
There was silence for a moment. I didn’t write. I just held Susan’s gaze.
“What could I give Jenny here on earth?” She asked after a moment and shrugged a little. “God gave her heaven,” she said calmly. “Jenny always said she didn’t want to be 30 and not be married. She wanted to get married and have kids. Well, God made her a teacher, so she had lots of kids. And, He took her before she turned 30, so she didn’t have to worry about not being married.”
Before Jenny’s funeral, the family’s pastor, Dr. Mike Whitson, spoke with Jenny’s Sunday school teachers to gather information about how Jenny served God through the church. During the funeral, Preacher Mike used the stories to illustrate the great impact she had on the lives of others – an impact she never knew about. But, it helped the family greatly to hear these stories.
“It was encouraging,” Susan told me. “But the most comforting thing to us was the 36 souls that were saved at her funeral. Even in death she was used for God’s glory. Her funeral was a testimony that death comes to any age, though, and it could come without warning, like in her case. My daily comfort is that the Lord promises that we will see her again and that she walks the streets of gold with our Savior, Jesus Christ!”
And there was that Susan-smile again.
“After a while, God showed me what a blessing it was that Steve was laid off from his job before this happened. God put Steve where he could spend time with Jenny.”
Susan looked at me. “I still tell people that I have 3 children because I do. They’re just scattered to the four winds. One is in Pennsylvania, one is in South Carolina, and one is in heaven.”
Jenny Elder – Image used with permission from Susan Elder
Please join me again next week for the conclusion of Portrait of a Servant Girl – Susan’s Story.