Gertrude had a plan. Her dream was to be the personal secretary to the Prime Minister of England. In 1908, that was probably the highest and most important working position a woman in England could hope for. Now she was on a ship heading from England to America to work in New York City. Gertrude’s plans were about to change.
Gertrude’s childhood had been difficult. During childhood, she would have bouts with bronchitis that would keep her out of school for months at a time. She eventually left school due to lack of funds and to help her mother at home. But she did not let that stop her from going after her ambition to be the secretary to the Prime Minister of England. So she began to study shorthand at home and learned to type. She knew to outdistance others she had be able to take dictation with speed and accuracy. Her family would read articles and books for her to transcribe. But she also knew that it was important to not only be fast and accurate, but also understand the context of what was being dictated.
By the time she was old enough to work full time, Gertrude could take shorthand dictation at a rate of 250 words a minute. This enabled her to find work easily and she became a valued employee. A friend, who was working as a secretary in New York City, wrote Gertrude and told her to come to New York because there were good jobs for a person with her skills. So, in 1908, at the age of 24, Gertrude was heading to New York, thinking that it will be a good work experience and an adventure. But she still had that dream to come back to England one day and be that secretary to the Prime Minister.
But it didn’t work out that way. Love has a way of changing plans. Oswald was on the ship to New York, too. Oswald was a minister, heading to America, to preach at Bible colleges and different churches. Oswald and Gertrude knew each other slightly beforehand, but all that changed on the ship. Two years later, Gertrude became a minister’s wife, and a partner in his ministry. She was with Oswald constantly, supporting him, as he spoke and taught at churches, Bible institutes and colleges. She used those shorthand dictation skills to write down the lectures, sermons and talks given by Oswald. Oswald had a keen insight into the things of God, and Gertrude grew stronger in the Lord as she chronicled those messages given by her husband.
Gertrude continued to be by Oswald’s side in the ministry, even after the birth of their baby girl. Then came World War I. Oswald felt an obligation to serve his fellow English soldiers in the war. In 1917, he became a chaplain to soldiers fighting in Egypt. While there, Oswald became sick and died suddenly from complications from an emergency appendectomy.
I wonder what Gertrude thought, her husband suddenly gone after seven years of marriage, and she now alone, with a four year old daughter. She had given up her dream of becoming the Prime Minister’s secretary. Oswald’s vision and ministry had become her vision and ministry. Things sure hadn’t worked out like she planned. She would go back to England, helped with the lodging at the small Bible college that Oswald had headed, and would raise their daughter.
But, thanks to Gertrude, the impact and legacy of the life of Oswald was just beginning. Oswald had touched many lives for God. Students, soldiers and others had grown in their faith from his teaching of God’s word. Many requested copies of his sermons and lectures. Because of her dedication and dictation skills, Gertrude had most of those talks written down and cataloged, word for word. Many people urged Gertrude to compile those messages in a book.
In 1924, Gertrude started working on a book, a collection of daily readings gathered from all of Oswald’s talks. Because of continued lodging duties at the college, it took three years for her to complete the work. ”My Utmost for His Highest,” by Oswald Chambers, has been continuously in print since 1927. With millions in print, it has been considered one of the most significant Christian books of the 20th century, impacting thousands of lives.
Sometimes things don’t work out like we planned. But that may be the plan, God’s plan. You may have had plans for your life that haven’t worked out the way you hoped. But, like Gertrude, God may be preparing you for something greater. When she was young, Gertrude hoped her dictation and secretarial skills would someday be of service to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But God would ultimately use those skills to be of service and make a difference for a greater kingdom, His kingdom.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]