Elijah & I Visit James A. Garfield – We’re Especially Impressed By His Mother


A Woman Who Worried Less and Lived More

Philippians 4:4-9 is a go-to passage for me in my battles with anxiety. I’m convinced the apostle Paul, who battled taunt nerves, wrote this passage to encourage himself as much as to uplift others. In my experience, sermons are sometimes self-therapy sessions in which I remind myself of the truths of God’s Word while letting my audience eavesdrop.

That’s a good description of my new book, Worry Less, Live More, based on my series of messages from Philippians 4. The heart of the passage says: “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, with prayer and petition, present your requests to God.”

One woman did that in a way that changed America.

Earlier this month, I took my grandson, Elijah Rowe, with me on a speaking engagement to Cleveland, Ohio, and we took the opportunity to visit the home and gravesite of President James A. Garfield. He’s my favorite president because he is our only Chief Executive who was also a committed Bible teacher and an ordained minister.

Credit his mother’s prayers. Eliza Garfield, who was widowed when James was a small child, raised him and his siblings on an Ohio farm amid deep poverty. When James was 16, as smart as a whip but moody and difficult, he left home to work on the Ohio and Erie Canal. He was not a believer, but he had a believing mother who prayed for him day and night.

One evening when the other workers of the canal boat had gone to bed, young James was on deck, playing in the rain and swinging around a loose coil of rope. He somehow fell overboard, and no one heard his cries for help. Unable to pull himself up, he thrashed around in the water and began panicking when all hope seemed gone. In his frenzy, he felt the rope with which he had been playing; and as he pulled on it, it caught on something. He climbed up and collapsed over the railing, heaving and gasping. When his heart slowed down, he looked around to discover that the loose end of the rope had somehow caught in a crack between the boards of the deck, saving his life.

Instantly Garfield realized God has a plan for his life. Leaving the canal at the next stop, he started home but was weakened by malaria. Every mile home was painful. As he approached his old cabin near midnight, he was half-dead. A light glowed from the window, and the boy looked into the room to see his mother by the fireside, Bible open before her, praying for him.

James collapsed through the door to her astonishment, and she put him to bed and nursed him slowly back to health. Shortly afterward, he enrolled in Geauga Seminary in Chester, Ohio—a high school run by Free Will Baptists—and later, when he was 19, he attended an evangelistic meeting conducted by the Disciples of Christ and was wonderfully converted to Christ and baptized.

Garfield became a popular preacher, Bible teacher, professor, and university president before becoming the 20th President of the United States. His mother was there all along the way. In fact, she became the first mother to see her son inaugurated as President.

Even after his assassination, she continued faithful to the Lord and trusted His providence for both time and eternity. She was the living embodiment of Paul’s command: “Do not worry about anything; but in every situation, present your requests to God.”

“I am the first mother that has occupied the White House and her son President,” she wrote. “I don’t like the word ‘proud,’ but if I just use it, I think in this case it is quite appropriate.”

Here are some pictures of the visit Elijah and I made to the Garfield home and cemetery. It’s worth a full day of sightseeing.

Eliza Garfield pouring over God’s Word
Her influence is everywhere.
Her bedroom in the Garfield home.
The Scripture on her wall: Watch and Pray
President Garfield’s Bible
Some of the President’s books
More of his library
At the Garfield home in Mentor, Ohio
The 20th President
At Garfield’s church-like tomb in Cleveland
In front of a great Christian leader
James and Lucretia Garfield
There’s nothing like a presidential visit with your grandson!