I began to hear about my husband’s grandmother not long after Richard and I began dating. Though she had gone on to Heaven, her reputation had not diminished, not even a mite. Her name was Emma Bald Ekhoff, of strong German stock and stronger Christian conviction.
Dietrich “Dick” Ekhoff and Emma, as the story went, had persevered through a broad range of hardships from snows so deep their children were afraid that Santa would not be able to visit to the destitution of the Great Depression and World War II. They raised three tall handsome sons: Ralph (Richard’s dad) and Willis, who were identical twins, were oldest, and Harold was born several years later.
Richard’s boyhood weekends were sometimes spent with his grandparents. His grandfather was a gentle hearty farmer and Richard adored him. They palled about the farm together tending the garden and caring for the horses, cattle, and such. Rich still treasures the handmade sling arrow made for him by that dear man.
Emma was often in the kitchen doing the hard work of country life in the vein of bygone years. She was known in the community for her baked goods and had plenty of practice perfecting the art as she made all her own bread and kept the cookie jar full of her famous molasses cookies. Emma was a little too saucy and staunchly good to be adored, but she was certainly revered and admired.
Emma’s walls were adorned with “religious art” as we call it today, pictures of Jesus’ earthly ministry. I still have her 8 x 10’s of Jesus in a white robe at His ascension, and an unusual black and white print of Jesus surrounded by children of different nationalities. Richard’s favorite was a color print of Jesus seated beneath a tree with children on His lap and on the grass before Him. He likes to imagine himself there as he prays, even after all these years.
Each evening without fail Emma and Dick retired to the living room for “prayer time,” and when he visited, Richard was required to join them. Intercession went on and on – almost an hour – while Dick and Emma prayed aloud for every leader by name and every known need in detail. Poor, spiritually rich, little boy thought it would never end!
He then joined them at their home church, First United Methodist Church, Bixby, OK, on Sunday mornings. Dick and Emma were pillars in the their congregation – especially Emma who had very strong opinions about faith in practice and publicized them freely. She did not believe in drinking or card playing. And once when the youth group set up a fundraiser in fellowship hall she swept in and told them that they were like the moneychangers in the Temple and to remove the display immediately.
Eventually their pious, industrious days were complete and Dick and Emma died full of good years, faithful to the end.
In due season Richard and I were married and settled in the Bixby community. The first church we visited was his grandparent’s little Methodist church. Halfway through our first Sunday morning in the “meet and greet” segment, the perky choir director (Lucy later became a close friend) slipped out of the choir loft and greeted us enthusiastically. When Richard mentioned our last name, she asked, “Are you related to the late Emma and Dick?” which of course, we were. At Richard’s affirmative she shared her memories of Emma – in particular her “beautiful prayers.”
The Lord called us to join that faith family in the next months and whenever Richard was introduced, we received the gushing testimony about Emma’s prayers. Most of the descriptions included how articulate they were and how when she prayed it was if “the Lord Himself entered the room.” The requests lifted by Emma Bald Ekhoff evidently reached the throne room of Heaven.
More years passed. The saints who had known Dick and Emma gradually passed away until we seldom heard their names, but I continued grateful for their influence in Richard’s life and their heritage in our home church. As I inscribed their names on the “Our Family Tree” page of baby book after baby book, I wondered about the fervent intercession sent up from the quaint living room of the farmhouse and Emma’s rich prayers at the Methodist church. Had they prayed for our children or me? Was part the blessing we enjoyed the result of their faithful petitions? Oh how I wished I had heard even one of those prayers!
One afternoon while going through old boxes we came across some of Emma’s kitchen utensils and nick-knacks – and among the rusting remains was her journal. Of course her sons had first dibs, but as soon as I could, I seized it. Opening the small, brown volume, I began to read with expectation. There was an entry for almost every day of the year 1942. I read until I came to the final word, then I sadly closed the cover and set it away. Here is the lamentable truth: There was nothing there.
- March 2: “Did a big washing. Dick helped me.”
- March 3: “Did my ironing and darned socks.”
- March 8: “All went to church. Douglas was here for dinner. Quite windy.”
- March 9: “Cleaned up the cellar. Beautiful day. Wrote letters.”
Interesting? Yes, because these were the details of midcentury farming life. But it was only a bare glimpse of the bare beams. The most passionate sentence in a year of entries was, “Today is Dick’s birthday. I love him so.”
Consider with me. What if she had recorded her molasses cookie recipe or the name of her favorite book? What do you think it would have meant to me to have the main point of a sermon that she learned to live by, her life verse, or her goal for the year? Might I have been encouraged by several lines about raising boys? How influential would a nugget of practical godly advice – or better yet what she loved about Jesus and why? How momentous would it have been to have had a single written prayer – just one? But there was nothing, absolutely nothing.
Emma’s little book is beside me here as I type and I have to wonder: Would it have made a difference if Emma had known that I wanted so much to have a word from her about her relationship with God? Would she have wanted her experience in prayer to be included in my book on prayer? Most certainly she would have.
Now we come to the purpose of this chapter. We are in conversation with the God of the universe and our very personal Lord in the present tense. This conversation is the substance of the prayer-that-must-be-written. He, who writes His law on our hearts and often instructed that His communication be written down, is honored by a written record of his investment in us. As He has written:
- Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered . . . (Ex. 17:14)
- Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. (Ex. 34:27)
- Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. (Isa. 30:8)
- Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites . . . (Deut. 31:19)
Seventy years from now when the box of our faded trinkets is opened by a generation we have never met, what greeting will pour forth in the light of the attic window? Is there anything we would like to say about family? About FAITH? Since we have the chance to do better, what should we do with the opportunity?