Read His Words Before Ours!
Mama’s hot tears ran down her face and onto my little hands held in hers, as she recounted the horrid memories of that spring day in 1820. An infection was raging against my newborn eyes. The visiting doctor, who ended up being no doctor at all, had convinced mama the only way to draw out my infection was to cover them with hot mustard bandages. Mama questioned such a risky treatment, yet with aching regret, agreed to let this man treat my eyes. Though my infection cleared, my eyes were badly burned, which led to severe scar tissue, leaving me blind at just six weeks old.
Months later, my papa died.
Mama thought she would just split right in two with the weight of it all.
In some ways, she did.
Mother did what any good mama would do and sent herself to work long days just to provide. Already living with my grandparents, I was surrounded by Christ-centered love and stability. Grandma was much like a second mother, and in many ways, I had a relationship with her that I’ve never had with another.
She became my eyes, determined to give me a full, rich life.
I vividly remember her taking me by the hand every day, heading out into the fields, and describing in great detail what she saw. It also wasn’t long before she was schooling me in every subject possible, as no other educational option was available for “the poor blind girl” as others would call me.
Pity for my condition was the most common response from others.
I knew better though.
I knew that this blindness – it was a gift.
If I had been sighted, I would have been distracted by great and wonderful things making it more difficult to focus on what God wanted me to learn and do in my lifetime.
My grandma had an abiding faith in Jesus Christ. She read me large portions of Scripture and challenged me endlessly to memorize passages of the good book. I found I could do so quickly and easily, something that would serve me well for years to come.
I began writing poetry as a young girl, this being one of my first at age 8:
“Oh what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be!
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t!
So weep or sight because I’m blind,
I cannot – no, I won’t.
A sea of opportunity was parted for me when I was accepted to the newly founded New York Institute for the blind at age 15. It wasn’t long before God made this my happy home as I would call it. He also grew my love and ability with poetry exponentially. It was second nature for me to write dozens of poems a day – even on demand. I became known as the “The Blind Poetess”, being called on frequently to write for special events for visiting dignitaries and political figures as well as for other important services held in the region. However, the years of attention, travel, and adventure bore down on my soul, and I was not without seasons of depression.
God used the revivals of the 1850s to draw me into Christian community and awaken my heart to true faith in my Savior Jesus Christ rather than simply just knowing about God in my head.
I found joy leading lost souls into God’s kingdom. During this season God also brought a long-time musician and fellow Institute friend back into my life – a man by the name of Van Alstyne. What started as a bond of musicianship, blossomed into a love that led to marriage. We chose to live a simple life, making it our aim live beneath our means in order to live among and serve the poor.
God continued to lead me into what I believe to be the truly greatest work of my life. William Bradbury, a well-known composer of the day, was the first to invite me to partner with him in providing hymn lyrics for his already composed music. This ushered in a wave of many more partnerships to come, producing fresh hymns for the church to sing. We, this band of like-minded musicians, poets and composers, were intent on providing hymns that were easily sung and understood by the average congregant, while maintaining a pure doctrine.
By the time I reached my 60’s, most of my more well-known songs had been written, including Blessed Assurance, Pass Me Not, All the Way My Savior Leads Me, To God be the Glory among others. However, instead of my life’s work winding down, God called me deeper into mission work at New York’s Bowery district.
I simply wanted to show God’s love and hope to these souls.
I retained my work as a hymn-writer – supplying 2-3 hymns a week to a publishing company. More satisfying however, was writing and providing hymns directly for the people whom I was ministering to in the mission. To hear that souls had converted to faith in Christ after hearing one of my hymns, was better than any earthly reward.
I continued to give all that I could of what God continued to supply. My pace eventually slowed, but my fervor did not. By God’s grace I continued to proclaim the words that He had given me years earlier:
To God be the glory, great things He hath done!
Ruffin, Bernard C. Fanny Crosby. United Church Press. 1976. Print.
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