When Frances (Fanny) Crosby (1820-1915) was just six weeks old, she developed an inflammation of the eyes as the result of a cold. The regular doctor of their community of Southeast, New York, was away at the time. Another man, who claimed to be a doctor but apparently was more of a quack, offered to treat the infant’s eyes. He put a hot poultice over her eyes, insisting it would draw out the infection. Instead, it all but destroyed the child’s sight. When Fanny’s parents accused the man, whose name is no longer known, of blinding their baby, he fled Southeast, never to be heard from again.
To the end of her long life, which stretched out for some ninety-five years, Fanny Crosby was able to see only bright light and vivid colors, and those but faintly. Other than that she was totally blind, being unable to make out distinct details or even indistinct shapes.
But this seeming tragedy led to her developing an overcoming spirit, an incredibly retentive mind and an exceptional poetic gift. All of which played into her becoming the world’s premiere hymnwriter of her generation. She wrote the lyrics to nearly 9,000 hymns, including a number that are still sung today – to name but a few: “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” “Blessed Assurance,” “He Hideth My Soul,” “I Am Thine, O Lord,” “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” “Redeemed,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” and “To God Be the Glory.”
A Presbyterian by upbringing, Fanny ministered in various denominational settings as an adult. Well into her eighties, she traveled widely, ministering in churches, Bible conferences, rescue missions, YMCAs, patriotic rallies and various other settings. Her songs have been an inspiration and a blessing to untold millions of Christians around the globe from her own day till the present time.
In the final decade of her life Fanny wrote of the accident that took her sight and the individual who was responsible for it: “But I have not for a moment, in more than eight-five years, felt a spark of resentment against him because I have always believed from my youth to this very moment that the good Lord, in His infinite mercy, by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do. When I remember His mercy and lovingkindness; when I have been blessed above the common lot of mortals; and when happiness has touched the deep places of my soul – how can I repine?”
Just about everyone faces circumstances and developments in life that seem most unfortunate or even tragic. We wonder why we have to experience them and what good could possibly come from them. But over time we come to see how God uses such hardships to forge within us strong, positive characteristics we otherwise would not have come to possess. He also redeems our challenges of life by leading us into tailor-made ministry opportunities we otherwise would not have had.
For our part, we need to prayerfully seek God’s help to trust Him, even when we cannot yet perceive how He is using our difficulties in these positive ways. And we should endeavor to become, by His grace, stronger and more useful servants of Him through the challenging circumstances He has permitted in our lives.
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A fuller account of Fanny Crosby’s inspiring life is included in my book Women of Faith and Courage. That account includes several examples of how the Lord used her hymn writing and other ministries to greatly bless and help others.
Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie