“[God’s] grace has brought me a life of abounding joy and satisfaction. When I lie down at night, there is a singing in my heart; and at times during the day when I have time to reflect, there are such surgings of joy that I can only praise Him. True, I didn’t have a husband or children, but the Lord gave infinitely more than enough to compensate and I could not ask for more than He has given me. Not that I despise those things. I am human and, I believe, a normal woman, but spiritual joys far surpass temporal ones.”
So begins the foreword of Dora Taylor’s book, As He Leads is Joy. It’s the story of God leading her as a thirty-something single woman to take nurse’s training and then to Honduras as a missionary nurse. Later He led her to Belize, and that is where her life and mine first intersected.
I was born to missionary parents in Belize in the 1960s. At the time Dora was living in a little remote village in Belize called San Felipe, where she ran a small medical clinic and eventually started a church as a Bible study with a few grew to many. Dora filled the role of aunt for my siblings and I, and we called her “Aunt Dora.”
After a number of years Dora returned to Pennsylvania to care for her elderly mother, and eventually I also returned to the States with my family. Over the years our paths would cross at Belize reunions and other occasions. One memory in particular stands out to me in those years. I went to the airport to pick up my parents when they returned from a visit to Belize with Dora and other former missionaries. While all the others were scurrying around claiming their checked luggage, Dora – in her 80s at the time – stood calm and poised with her two lightweight bags hanging from her slight body, easily carrying all she needed for the three-week trip out of the country! She was a seasoned traveler, making many medical missionary trips well into her 80s.
A few years later I moved to Virginia where Dora had also moved a number of years before, and attended the same church as Dora. It was during this time that I really got to know her. Now in her 90s, she lived alone in her own little third-floor apartment in a retirement community, always choosing the stairs over the elevator as she came and went. She walked with a spring in her step untypical of most women her age. That and the twinkle in her dark brown eyes were just two of many indications that Dora lived with a sense of purpose.
She had an avid interest in others from new-born babies, to the youth at church, to her fellow residents in the apartment complex where she lived. She would help the other residents in various ways: putting salve in a lady’s eyes daily, taking regular blood pressure reading for various individuals, and sewing and mending for others. Many would come to her for encouragement and counsel. She was also working on writing her second book, this one about her years in Belize.
During her years in mission work, Dora was given the opportunity twice to adopt. While in Honduras, a young father once wanted to give her his little girl whom she had nursed back to health. Again when she was in Belize, parents of a baby girl whose life she had saved offered the baby to Dora. In both cases Dora felt it was best the child remain with her parents. Her maternal instincts and desire to be a mother made this choice difficult, but as she brought these situations to the Lord He made it plain to her what was best for both the child and for her.
But Dora was not without many “descendents.” She had spiritual children and grandchildren around the world, many who would write to her asking for her counsel, some even referring to her as “grandmother.”
Can God take the place of a spouse? By Dora’s testimony He can:
“I know that God does take the place of someone you love. I know what it is to be alone. I could be envious of others, especially now as I see others who have children and grandchildren coming to see them. But this is how the Lord has ordered my life.”
The time in her life when she was particularly lonely was when she lived in the little village of San Felipe in Belize. While she felt close to the people in the village, initially there were no other Christians. But this was also the time when she was closest to the Lord. She often played her recorder (a flute-like instrument) and wrote in her journals. “Willingly I do this,” she wrote in one of them, referring to the loneliness of being there. These journals later became invaluable as she wrote her books.
“God takes the place of all He takes away,” Dora told me. A difficult experience in her 20s gave her the opportunity to surrender her life to the Lord. “But it is experiences like that,” Dora said, “which really enrich your life, and make it easier to follow the Lord’s leading in the future.”
A few years after I moved to Virginia, Dora suffered a stroke, limiting her use of her right side and confining her to a wheel chair. For awhile she lived with my parents and I, and I was privileged to assist her in caring for herself. But after a hip fracture limited her mobility even more, Dora moved to assisted living in the same retirement community she had lived before.
While she missed living in a home with “family,” living in a retirement community gave her opportunities to continue her life purpose of encouraging and mentoring others. She was given a motorized scooter and used it to visit others within the retirement community, blessing many in the years that followed her stroke, both residents and staff alike. She also continued to attend church and was a significant inspiration to her church family, including many of the youth.
As Dora got older she weakened. Just one day before she slipped into unconsciousness, she spent a couple hours with a young woman she had been mentoring – living her purpose right up to the very end of her life, even on her death bed! Less than a week later, at age 98, Dora slipped from this earthly realm into the heavenly one, to meet the Lord face to face whom she had lived for and walked with all her life!
Although even into her old age Dora would have welcomed a husband if the Lord had given her one, she didn’t let that desire hold her back from living the life and purpose God had given her – and living it with much joy!