“I took a train from Edinburgh to Glasgow by myself on what happened to be my wedding anniversary, looking for a man at a train station carrying a copy of My Utmost for His Highest!”
“You did?” I say aloud, smiling over my favorite line of Michelle Ule’s author-interview notes to me and admiring her bravery. She was “pulling a Biddy,” as she calls it–confident in God, no matter the circumstances.
Michelle asked the train-station stranger, a member of the Oswald Chambers Publications Association, “Have you thought about having a biography written about Biddy?” (Shortly after Oswald Chambers met Gertrude Annie Hobbs—later to be a Chambers—he nicknamed her “Beloved Disciple,” which shortened to “B.D.” And she was “Biddy” for the rest of her life.)
Sitting across the table from her now, steam rising off his Scottish meal, the stranger laughed. “Who knows? Maybe you’re the one to write it.”
Michelle shook her head. “I’m a novelist.”
As time progressed, Michelle continued to pen her novel, which includes Oswald Chambers as a marquee character, but the stranger’s words, regarding writing Biddy Chambers’s biography, lodged deep into her heart. And while climbing through the pages of Oswald Chambers’s history, she fell in love with his wife, Biddy.
Why, Michelle? Why did you fall in love with Biddy? What was it about her? My hand glides over the notes that I’ve read repeatedly, over Michelle’s words that have wedged into my heart. I press God for direction on writing about Michelle seeking Biddy. In confusion, I hug my daughter and say into her golden hair, “I can’t do this.” Some things are too big for me. I google an image of the book cover of Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God on the internet and ponder direction. My computer crashes–the blue screen of death–and I know in my heart that it’s no accident because resistance signals importance. And I know in my heart that I must press forward. Because I want to pull a Biddy, like Michelle. I want to see what Michelle saw, with her heart, in Biddy’s heart.
Because I knew that Oswald Chambers wrote My Utmost for His Highest, the best-selling devotional in print for over 90 years. But I didn’t know that his wife did his bidding some 10 years after his death. He died at 43, you see.
Turning the page of my interview notes and slipping further into pain, I long for time and distance to clear. Because I want to wrap Biddy and Michelle in a hug. You see, Biddy found herself a widow, a single mother, and penniless at 34. But like so many, Biddy knew hardship. She had suffered from acute bronchitis as a teen, and as her health declined, her parents pulled her out of school.
But desiring to help her family financially, Biddy became a spectacular stenographer, according to Michelle, producing 250 words per minute. And in her days with Oswald, she recorded by hand every lecture that he presented to the missionary trainees at their Bible Training College. After his death, instead of choosing security, somewhere hovering over that beloved grave-site, dressed in stark black and wearing a full veil, she placed both feet on the path of poverty and spent her life turning those notes into 30 books with Oswald’s name on each cover.
Biddy published all of his books after he died.
Rolling every penny back into producing the next book, she didn’t use the money for herself or her child.
Their daughter Kathleen shared: “If my mother hadn’t had bronchitis, she probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity of learning shorthand to that extent. My father always used to talk about God’s order in the haphazard, and that was haphazard in a way. If she hadn’t had the shorthand speed like that, there wouldn’t have been any books at all. None whatever.”
Those books. Biddy reserved the right to mail those books, free of charge, to missionaries around the world, and she would do that–encourage them with Oswald’s words–for 30 years, because knowing Jesus and sharing the Gospel was of utmost importance to them.
I turn the page of my notes to find more devastation: the London Blitz of WWII destroyed all the books warehoused near St. Paul’s Cathedral. Biddy hadn’t insured them, and the loss threatened to end her publishing house. Biddy said, “If that’s God will, we’ll do something else.”
But Biddy found books and publishing plates, and she resumed her self-publishing ministry.
“Biddy Chambers’s life,” shared Michelle, “is one of a woman devoted to God’s greatest glory, despite obstacles and difficulties that would have challenged the best of us. She remained committed to God and the vision and calling He put on her life, despite countless heartaches. From her, we can learn a great deal about faith, commitment, and the ways God uses the unexpected, the haphazard as it were, to produce blessings to a lost world. My Utmost for His Highest would not have been written if Oswald Chambers had not died. Is a book worth a life?
“If you think over the last 90 years–from the encouragement My Utmost for His Highest gave people through financial depression, war (copies were smuggled into POW camps during WWII), political oppression, and general life–a deeper understanding of what it means to love God came through the work of one woman who gave her utmost for God’s highest glory. Can we do any less?
“My personal faith has grown as a result of spending the last 4 years with Biddy and Oswald. It’s been an honor to bring this story to light, and I’m grateful I could participate.”
Why, Michelle? Why? Why did you give 4 years to Oswald and Biddy? I turn my notes over, as a smile inches over my face, and scribble over the page: Love. That’s why. It all backtracks to love–the kind that sinks down and lodges deep into a heart.
And with much of her life paralleling Biddy’s as she wrote and traveled through the Chamberses’ history–rejoicing as they rejoiced, mourning as they mourned, suffering as they suffered–Michelle endured as they endured, regardless of the obstacles and setbacks along her writing journey of Mrs. Oswald Chambers.
Michelle Ule pulled a Biddy.
Bestselling author Michelle Ule is the biographer of Mrs. Oswald Chambers: The Woman Behind the World’s Bestselling Devotional and seven other books. You can learn more about her and read further blog posts about Biddy and Oswald Chambers at her website: www.michelleule.com.
Michelle is giving away one paperback copy of Mrs. Oswald Chambers, which released October 17, 2017. Leave a comment below for a chance to win! (Winner randomly selected October 31, 2017 and must have Continental U. S. mailing address.) You can find the book at Amazon or Baker Publishing Group, as well.
Among Christian devotional works, My Utmost for His Highest stands head and shoulders above the rest, with more than 13 million copies sold. But most readers have no idea that Oswald Chambers’s most famous work was not published until ten years after his death. The remarkable person behind its compilation and publication was his wife, Biddy.
Bestselling novelist Michelle Ule brings Biddy’s story to life as she traces her from her upbringing in Victorian England to her experiences in a WWI YMCA camp in Egypt to her return to post-war Britain, a destitute widow with a toddler in tow. Refusing personal payment, Biddy published thirty books with her husband’s name on the covers, all while raising a child alone, providing hospitality to a never-ending stream of visitors and missionaries, and nearly losing everything in the London Blitz during WWII.
This inspiring story of a devoted woman ahead of her time will quickly become a favorite of anyone who loves true stories of overcoming incredible odds, making a life out of nothing, and serving God’s kingdom.
To Michelle: I’m so in awe of you for giving your utmost for God’s highest glory. I hear you, all the way from California to Texas. You make me love God more. Love, Shelli ♥
Have you “pulled a Biddy” like Michelle, confident in God, no matter the circumstances? Would you share? Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered into the drawing for a chance to win a copy of Mrs. Oswald Chambers.
*** The winner is Jerusha Agen. Congratulations, Jerusha! ♥