Even more, every once in a great while we find that there are particular friends who touch our lives with such startling impact, opening eyes and heart to God’s great Story with such clarity and acuteness that it changes us significantly, and we know we will never be the same again. This was the impact that Bruce and Ellen Craswell had on my life and my husband Dan’s, as well as so many others.
This past April, I wrote a post about the amazing impact that Ellen had in my life as she modeled– more than anyone I’ve known– the “virtuous woman.” Ellen has been so deeply missed since she passed away, yet no one has felt the loss more than her husband Bruce. Last week, a large group of us gathered at Bruce’s home to celebrate his 80th birthday, and even more, to celebrate the gift that he himself, through God’s grace, has been to every one of us.
Dan and I first met Bruce and Ellen in 1996, when Ellen– after serving two 2-year terms in the House of Representatives followed by serving in the Senate from 1980 till 1992–was the Republican gubernatorial candidate for Washington State. With their family grown, together she and Bruce traveled the state campaigning. It’s difficult to think of one of them separate from the other. They were truly a “team” I had never seen the likes of before. Ellen personified Godly grace and feminine beauty combined with strong, uncompromising convictions. Bruce was by far the more vocal, gregarious of the two, the one who clearly set the course of their joint vision and purpose, and led the way.
Long before that, Bruce had been the first of them to become a Christian. His eyes still fill with deeply grateful tears every time he re-tells the story of how God apprehended his life so many years ago, when overcome by God’s irresistable drawing, he pulled his car over to the side of the road and gave his life to the Lord. The startling change in his life and character had so impacted Ellen that she too became a Christian. Together from that point on, they spent the remainder of their married life passionately and sacrificially fulfilling God’s call.
In all the years we knew them, there was never a word of impatience, annoyance, or disrespect from either of them toward the other. Never. Each of them had the greatest respect and affirmation for the other. Always. I don’t doubt that their’s was probably the greatest picture of marriage that I have ever been priviledged to witness.
We spent hours upon hours sitting around their dining room table with them, talking about the “two loves” that we all shared: first, for God; second, for politics– and most especially, “God in politics,” an idea we all grew in together. Once when Dan and I arrived at their house late at night, Bruce immediately began to start a pot of coffee so we could talk about God and politics. The rest of us protested starting coffee at such a late hour, but Bruce quizzically wondered, “But aren’t we just getting started?”
Bruce and Ellen’s house sat in a beautiful, green, lush valley on the Olympic Peninsula. On one side, their son Jim (one of their four grown children), daughter-in-law Denise and six children lived, and on the other side, their daughter Patty, her husband Glen and their six children lived, creating an energetic, warm and very happy “Craswell Compound.” Every morning, Bruce headed over to Jim’s for coffee and politics. Sometimes when friends gathered at Bruce and Ellen’s for get togethers and discussions, Denise and the granddaughters would cook and serve dinner to their guests– a means of affectively training the young granddaughters in the art of hospitality.
Once, many years ago, I was expecting Bruce and Ellen for dinner and an overnight stay here at our house. But just as they arrived at the door, I received a call that my 25 year old nephew had just been killed in a violent car accident. Shocked and grieved, I stood crying uncontrollably while Bruce, Ellen and my husband Dan tried to give comfort. Later, Bruce told me that as he felt such compassion for the burden I was carrying, he tried to relate to such grief, thinking it was strange that he had never had to experience such adversity.
But immediately it occurred to him that he had just gone through the grief of Ellen’s diagnosis and treatment of cancer, as well as the death of his daughter Jill’s husband–only in his 30’s– as well as a list of very difficult and grievous situations that everybody must deal with at some point in their lives. Yet Bruce had come through such intense adversities with such determination and trust in God’s greater plans and purposes that he literally did not carry the pain of the stormy circumstances that had plummeted him. His hope and his vision were so fully on God’s amazing grace and love that having gone through the storms, he retained only the peace and strength of his Sustainer.
And hearing that, I knew that I, too, could triumph over adversity through Christ, the reality of my faith.
Bruce’s life has continued to have more than his fair share of adversity, yet his victorious attitude and the peace that truly passes understanding still stands as an amazing testament that continues to impact so many. Ellen, the love and joy of his life, succumbed to a third bout of cancer and she passed into the arms of Jesus a couple of years ago, only in her mid 70’s. Soon after Ellen died, Bruce required knee surgery but it became stubbornly infected afterwards. As a result, his leg was amputated at the knee– a very visual picture of his life without Ellen. He misses Ellen just as deeply today as he did the day she died, yet he remains positive and optimistic, with his eyes fixed upon God with victorious peace.
The grandchildren that surrounded him on the “Craswell Compound” gradually grew, and moved away. His son Jim began a new job, and of necessity sold his house, and he and Denise moved to a new home two hours away. Glen and Patty sold their house and moved into Bruce’s house for awhile, building a small but comfortable apartment for Bruce in what used to be his garage. Recently, Glen himself got a new job requiring that he and Patty move to Arizona. With family gone, Bruce is the last remaining Craswell on the “Craswell Compound.”
Life has changed dramatically for him, yet through it all, the testimony of his faith in Christ and the assurance he carries not only for the forgiveness of his sins and the great hope he has of eternal life– but also for the victory of his faith that overcomes the trials and adversity of this world, continues to be one of the very greatest impacts in my life. The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
I’ve read about Paul’s victory over adversity in the Bible many, many, many times. Yet God has graciously given us a picture of how man can triumph over adversity through the grace of God, right here and right now.
At Bruce’s birthday party, his house was crowded with grateful individuals whose lives had likewise been impacted by his. During that evening, he mentioned to me that he still keeps very busy in his current life situation, but that “none of what he does really counts for anything.” He’s wrong. Bruce’s life continues to be one of the greatest testimonies I have ever known of victory through the power of Christ Jesus.
Dan and I are still driven by Bruce and Ellen’s passion to see the Word of God revealed in the political sphere, and we are still impacted by Bruce’s faith in the One Who sustains, even in adversity. We are more blessed than words can tell by friendship with such a man. He continues to show so many of us how to live life fully to the glory of God.
Happy 80th Birthday, Bruce– your life has been a greater impact than you will ever know! Our lives are richer– truly richer– because of knowing you.
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