Fanny Jane Crosby- she has always been one of my heroes and favorite hymn writers. Not just because we share a middle name and we are both female songwriters, but because of the depth of her lyric writing and the passion of her faith. Another reason she has continually inspired me is because of her joy in living for Christ, even though she was blind almost her entire life, from when she was just a few weeks old. I have no idea what challenges Fanny faced as a blind woman. I am not blind, and I am so thankful for the gift of sight. However, for the past four years I have experienced visual impairment due to the after-effects of the brain tumor I had. My brain just hasn’t been able to get my eyes to function the way they used to and they haven’t been able to work together simultaneously, leaving me with double vision.
I am hopeful for continual healing, but no matter what God’s plan is for my eyes, I want to be an overcomer; I want to choose to see Jesus in all things. When I read about people like Fanny Crosby, I am reminded that my challenges are quite minimal in comparison, and yet my attitude is often quite lacking joy. It’s all about perspective. A person like Fanny Crosby is someone we remember, because her story is one of perpetual hope, faith, and victory in Jesus. She didn’t let her disability be the mark that defined her life, rather her God-given abilities and overcoming spirit gave her opportunities to use her gifts to touch this world in amazing ways.
Fanny simply chose to not feel sorry for herself. She chose to use her time to relentlessly follow after Jesus. She chose to fill her brilliant mind with the constant truth of Scripture. As a child, she memorized five chapters of the Bible a week. She was able to recite from memory the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and many Psalms. She chose to teach others who were blind and invest in their lives. She chose to use music as a means to worship the Lord and bring glory to His name. This woman who grew up fatherless, impoverished, and blind did not let her past dictate her future, but instead let God write His glorious plans for her life, and became influential around the world with over 9,000 hymns, many that are still popular today. God raised up young Francis “for such a time as this” and her influence extended to even congress and presidents- building friendships with many national leaders.
Some wondered why God would allow such an amazing woman to become blind at only six weeks old…but Fanny responded to such doubts and questions with a simple statement: “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.” Oh the depths of her faith! Oh her steadfast joy! I long to have that kind love for my Jesus. To be quite honest, sometimes I struggle with my own disability and can have days where it is so frustrating and difficult to see clearly. I feel like I am stumbling over everything, dizzy, head spinning, tired, and head hurting. Ok, I realize it’s not that bad…I have friends who are blind or have visual impairment much worse than my own, but you know how it is…we all have pathetic pity parties for ourselves here and there, at times.
But when I recall the quote above from dear Fanny Jane, my whole heart perspective is rearranged and I remember Heaven. I think about the beautiful face of Jesus. I begin to cry tears of overwhelming joy. And my hope becomes so fixed and secure. It is often during worship on Sunday mornings when I imagine seeing Jesus face to face in all His glory and perfect presence. And I do imagine His face being the first that I see totally clearly, one face, no double, no dizziness, no blurred image. Totally clear, beautiful, holy, perfect, strong, radiant light. I’m crying now, even as I type this, trying to picture what it really will be like to be with Him in that moment, forever. No sickness, no pain, no questions, no frustrations, no hurt, no brokenness, no anxiousness, no darkness, no injustice, no sin. Only wholeness and healing and hope forever. Only relationship and closeness and knowing Him and being known forever. Only life and joy and peace and glory forever. Only love and victory forever. Only all our deepest longings met forever. Oh how I long to see the face of Jesus.
Which brings me to Fanny’s beloved hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” You see, back in late 2014 and early 2015, when I was awaiting brain surgery and facing the very possible reality of death, I had many questions for God and many moments when I just sought His face, His presence. I didn’t know what the outcome of surgery would be. I knew this brain tumor, left alone, could take my life over the course of the next several years, slowly. I knew God had opened up the amazing door for surgery with an incredible surgeon who might very well save my life. But I also knew that the stakes were high and the risks were beyond great. The brain stem was involved. An artery feeding blood supply to the brain stem was smack dab running through the middle of the brain tumor. I had to come face to face with my faith once and for all and ask myself, “Do I really believe what I say I believe?”
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13)
It was in worship one early Sunday morning when that blessed assurance hit my soul like an ocean wave washing over me. I knew that I knew, that no matter what, my Jesus paid for my sins on the cross so I could be with Him in heaven forever. I knew that if I didn’t wake up from surgery, that the first face I would see would be Jesus, and that truly death would bring life. I knew Who held my life in His hands, and I knew Who held my victory. I knew that to live was Christ and to die would be gain. I knew that if the worst happened, it would be the best. I knew that no matter what, my Savior Who spoke this world into being and breathed life into my lungs and created my inmost being and knit me together in my mother’s womb- that very Savior and God had written every day ordained for me before one of them began to be, and He knew my end from my beginning. His plan and purpose for my life would prevail.
These days, when I share my story with people all over the country, I tell everyone that there is nothing more important than to know Jesus. Dear friend, reading this blog today, do you know Him? Do you have that blessed assurance of your salvation? Do you believe with all of your being that He is alive and He has given you life? Are you confident that you will be with Jesus in Heaven forever? Please don’t wait a single day. He is offering you life, and life to the full.
Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son…I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11,13)
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5)
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
I want to end by sharing the sweet story of Fanny and her good friend Phoebe Palmer Knapp. In 1873 both women lived in New York City. Fanny lived in the slums of Manhattan, working in rescue missions and often giving what little money she had away. Meanwhile, Phoebe lived in a mansion in Brooklyn, married to Joseph Knapp, the president of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Phoebe was an avid and extravagant entertainer, and Fanny was often a guest in her home. Their friendship formed through attending the same church, the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church. One day Phoebe brought a tune she wrote to Fanny, playing it for her in her opulent music room. Fanny knelt in prayer while listening and then after hearing the tune twice, immediately exclaimed in her typical joyful fashion, “Why, that says, ‘Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine!'” With that, the new hymn came to life as Fanny finished writing the words. Among many other Crosby hymns, “Blessed Assurance,” became widely popular throughout the country and around the world during the Moody/Sankey revival meetings of the 1800s. I don’t see this hymns popularity fading anytime soon, over 200 years later, as we treasure the hope it holds still today.
Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003.
Peterson, RAndy. Be Still My Soul: The Inspiring Stories behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns. Carol Stream: Tyndall House, 2014.