Biographies

Wildflowers Magazine - Fanny Crosby

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Growing up, our family went to church services twice on Sunday. One on Sunday morning and once in the evening. The evening service started at 6:30pm and often included either a hymn sing, a missionary presentation, short sermon, or perhaps a visiting choir performance. My grandparents came from a culture and time when music was woven into the fabric of their daily lives and worship. Almost everyone could sing and harmonize. Everyone knew all 8 stanzas to every hymn and the voices blended upward into a unified chorus of passionate proclamation. I remember hearing one story of a group of Mennonites who were fleeing Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century. The group was waiting on a train platform. Fearful and tired, they began to sing the hymns of the faith. These hymns gave great depth of comfort as men, women, and children sang songs that spurred on their faith and gave them hope. We are called to speak and sing truth to one another, at all times and in all ways, giving glory to our Father in Heaven.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
-Colossians 3:16

I would sit in church on Sundays in the second or third row, on the right hand side of the sanctuary. I clearly remember holding my hymnal and flipping through the pages, studying the words, the names of authors, and finding hymns based on certain topics. It all intrigued me very much. Songs like Be Thou My Vision, Fairest Lord Jesus and The Old Rugged Cross became oases of living water.

Countless hymns settled into my heart, and laid a foundation of sacred music that shaped and formed me. One of the names that appeared frequently was the name of Fanny Crosby. Others were Isaac Watts, William Kirkpatrick, Frances Havergal, Augustus Toplady, Robert Lowry, Charles Wesley, and John Newton.

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When praying about who to write about for the summer issue of Wildflowers Magazine, I decided to read about and research Frances Jane Crosby, otherwise known as Fanny Crosby. There are many things that stand out to me from her life.

The first is that she had a loving mother who had to raise her on her own as her father died shortly after she was born. With a supportive family, her mother received help from Fanny’s grandmother in raising her. There were many people who helped to educate her, especially since she was blind and at that time, there weren’t many educational opportunities for the blind. Her mother and grandmother, and others who came into her life nurtured her in God’s Word and in a warm and loving home. From Fanny’s mother’s example, I see a commitment to training her child to follow God. Fanny’s story wouldn’t be the same without her mother, Mercy, and grandmother, Eunice, teaching her diligently to know God in His Word.

The second thing that stands out from her life is that she was eager to serve the Lord. As a child, she asked the Lord if there was some work that he had for her to do. It seemed she always had faith like a child. Surely, God used her weakness as her greatest strength, and through it Fanny depended on the Lord. Although she was well known as the Blind Poetess throughout evangelical Christianity at that time, she regularly went to prisons and shelters to tell small audiences about Jesus, the Son of God. One could walk into a gathering of the “undesirables” of life and see a little, old woman, wearing a black dress and holding a black book, speaking about God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. She quietly served, taught and loved those who were not lovable, and she showed them the depths of God’s love for each of them.

It will be amazing to see one day, the masses of people who were brought to Jesus through her humble hymns.

My husband and I are part of a collaborative music group called Gateway Hymns. While reading and researching about Fanny Crosby, I thought how wonderful it would be to record some of her hymns as part of this written biography. So with some friends, we recorded this short album, The Songs of Fanny Crosby. (There are only three on the album, but she probably wrote over 9,000 throughout her lifetime!) You can download this collection at www.gatewayhymns.bandcamp.com, The Songs of Fanny Crosby.

To read a little about Fanny’s life, you can check out the summer issue of Wildflowers Magazine!

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Getting to Know the Lewis's

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This past year has been what I have named, “The Year of CS Lewis”. I will explain further on, how I came to commit myself to reading the works of CS lewis throughout this past year. For now, I will share my journey of coming to this point of getting to know the Lewis’s.

I don’t remember the first time I heard of CS Lewis. I’m sure it was when I was a child. Perhaps it was when I was in my elementary school years and I’d go hang out in my dad’s church office. We had free reign in his office! Paper, pens, playing with the phone and all the buttons, hiding under his desk, using the stapler, and flipping through his rolodex to find phone numbers! Ha! And sometimes, there would be mint Tic Tacs! At some point in my younger years, I began to be curious what all the books on his shelves were about. There were whole volumes dedicated to single books in the Bible called “commentaries”, and books on all sorts of topics. That was when I realized there was so much to learn and so much to know about the Bible. It intrigued me. Perhaps it was then that I noticed a book by CS Lewis, or heard one of his quotes in a sermon. There were three moments in time that were pivotal in my introduction to CS Lewis.

The first time I remember hearing about The Chronicles of Narnia was when I was in 6th grade. My public school class was given three options of books to read and we had to choose one. I can’t remember exactly what choices were given, except for one. When I saw the title, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I most emphatically chose to avoid that one. A witch? No thank you. I’m not reading that one. I didn’t know what this story was about and my parents probably didn’t either. I am second-generation Canadian. My grandparents were from Russia, and when their families moved to Canada, the goal was survival, making a new life in a time when there was much uncertainty due to war, immigration, making ends meet, and starting families. Their language was German and their culture was Mennonite. (My parents grew up with a mixture of German and English spoken in their homes.) Learning the best of English literature was not a priority, and the furthest thing from their minds. Most of my relatives at that time probably didn’t even know English until the younger children began going to public schools where they could easily learn and assimilate to their new country and culture.

My elementary years carried on and into junior high school, and then onto senior high. In all those years, I never heard of Narnia again, until I went to Bible College several years later. I remember the exact night I heard of this enchanted place, the passion in the words being spoken about this great story of a great Lion, Aslan. I had a wonderful group of Christian friends, brothers and sisters that I would hang out with. One night, several of these friends were talking about their love of and passion for Narnia. Their eyes lit up and these young men couldn’t stop talking about Narnia. I was inspired. Perhaps, I thought, I should read the Chronicles of Narnia! And so, eventually, I bought a cheap paperback edition and began reading through the series, slowly progressing through the years and enjoying every bit of every story with all my heart. It was after I was married that I decided I needed to finish this children’s series before our baby was born. So I spent the last month before she arrived reading and devouring the final couple books!

The third introduction I had to CS Lewis was when we had three children and my husband and I decided to start reading the Chronicles to our children. It was hilarious to see our oldest two children open the closet door and hesitate, thinking that if they walked through the coats, would they end up in Narnia? We did start reading, but it was short lived and the children weren’t ready quite yet. So we waited. When we got to seminary, we began again, but this time from the chronological beginning, The Magician’s Nephew. The kids were ready and I spent the next year reading aloud to them the entire series. It was a joy to share with my kids these stories I had grown to love.

And so, there you have it. I read the Chronicles of Narnia through twice, and love them!

It was last summer. I was talking with one of the teachers at our kids’ new school and she was telling me about one of the books her older class would be reading that year. It was another CS Lewis book. I realized then that, besides the Chronicles of Narnia, I had not read any of his other books. Such an influential Christian author of the twentieth century, a man whom I had heard quoted all my life, through Bible college, etc, and I hadn’t read any of his other works? How did I even make it through Bible college without having read any of his works? I decided then and there that I would take a year to become more acquainted with the works of Lewis. I began with the suggestion from this friend, his final novel ever written, Till We Have Faces.

I would love to give a book review/reflection on each of the works I have read of his this year, but that may have to wait for another time. For now, I would like to share which of his books I have indeed read this year. I began with his fiction and am now discovering the person of CS Lewis as well as a biography of his dear wife, Joy. Here is a brief list of the Lewis books I have read thus far… a year later:

Till We Have Faces

Out of the Silent Planet

Perelandra

That Hideous Strength

The Four Loves

Mere Christianity

Surprised by Joy, the Shape of my Early Life

And God Came In (biography of Joy Davidman) by Lyle W. Dorsett

There are many more of his works that I hope to read in this ongoing effort to dive into the wisdom, personality, and testimony of CS Lewis. I am fascinated by the way God brought both “Jack” and Joy to Himself, as well as to each other in marriage and love, and the ways their lives influenced each other and complimented each other. This is one reason why I love to read and write biographies… to see the work of God in and through a person’s life and how its influence reaches into the lives of tens, hundreds, thousands throughout the years and generations.

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Elisabeth Elliot and an Introduction to Wildflowers Girls Mag

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I cannot remember the first time I sensed the Lord calling me to full time ministry, but I do remember the moment He put in me a passion for missions. A fourteen year old teenager, I had traveled to Mexico with my family and church. We set up our camp, Canadians and Americans, in a farmers field perched high atop the hills of Tijuana. But nationality and citizenship counts for little when you are a citizen of Heaven.

We found unity and camaraderie among the group of about 60 Christians who had gathered in this field to set up our tents and trailers and camp out for the week while we drove in and out of our mission site to build a home for a family. Showers were in areas blocked with black plastic tarp nailed to a framed makeshift room with wild blue sky above. We gathered our one bucket of cold shower water from the large communal pool each day, dunked our heads in the water to wash our hair and rinse off by pouring the rest over our heads.

Each morning as we drove into town, we would be chased by cheering children to our work site. In an area surrounded by a cycle of poverty that was restricted by a complicated governmental system to work within, we set to work assisting a family in adding two rooms to their already deteriorating two room shack. Then one morning as I saw several young adult missionaries in their twenties jumping into their jeep and driving down the dirt path, it was that moment that I knew God was giving me a new passion in life.

What followed was years of working with various churches in various roles, short term missions trips, Bible college, long term ministry, and a desire to encourage and build up missionaries on the field. My heart was being reoriented in a specific direction by the Lord. It is no wonder then that my favorite genre of literature is missionary and historical biographies of which I have been reading since I first picked up the book Bruchko at a Bible school in Texas. This was also where I first met, in the pages of her book on purity, beloved modern missionary, Elisabeth Elliot.

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Earlier this year, I had the privilege and joy of writing a biography of Elisabeth Elliot, missionary to the Auca tribe in Equador for a new girls magazine called Wildflowers. I felt honored to be able to pray, research, and write an account and short biographical sketch of her life, to pass on her story to a new generation of young girls, and to be a part of the thread that ties Elisabeth’s story to these young girls’ stories.

Elisabeth Elliot remains one of the most powerful contemporary examples for Christian women, and thousands of women, young and old, have been discipled by her through her books and radio broadcasts. Through the trials she endured, her resolute trust in God and her love for Christ Jesus inspires vast numbers of women to live their lives in faithful surrender and obedience to God no matter the cost. Wildflowers, pg 12

Being the first issue of the magazine, the theme was Spring, new life, and getting outside to see the miracles that abound. My soul was in desperate need of spring this year. After a very long winter in the midwest, spring only lasted for about a week before turning into the heat and humidity of summer, though very beautiful indeed. I didn’t really get a normal spring this year. In fact, the winter was more like a rough and rocky dirt path. But the Lord encouraged my heart this morning to remind me that this is where wildflowers grow.

Sally Lloyd-Jones writes in her most recent newsletter,

“Don’t you love it when flowers start preaching? It’s the long winter, the difficulty, the struggle, the hard ground that draws beauty from the soil. And one day—everywhere you look there is life and you’re overtaken by wild flowers. What hope!” - Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Lord reminded me of wildflowers again this week while on a lovely walk beside the Bay as I found my own favorite wildflowers along a stony path that have been preaching to me for years. As in Elisabeth Elliot’s life, the Lord takes our times of pain and struggle and brings forth beauty, not only in our lives but in the lives of countless others and like Sally writes, suddenly there are wild flowers springing up everywhere. May these essays be like seeds in young girls lives to bring about gospel hope, truth and beauty… everywhere!

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And now I must close this off and tell you where you can find this lovely magazine for young girls, because the summer issue is about ready to be released, and today I get started on my research for the next biographical sketch for the Fall issue.

To purchase your copy of the Spring issue of Wildflowers, click here. Wildflowers was created by my friend Maegan Keaton and is a creative collection of stories, book reviews, photography and DIY projects for girls ages 8-12! Just the perfect first magazine to give to my now ten year old daughter!

Lilias Trotter: Soul Into Blossom {Deeply Rooted Magazine}

Over a year ago, I wrote a piece describing my journey of delight in learning about and researching the life and work of missionary and artist, Lilias Trotter.

When I first met missionary and artist, Lilias Trotter, it was in the pages of a book given to me by a dear friend who is now, herself, a missionary to Ireland. This book, Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God, is written by Noel Piper and is a collection of short stories about the lives of five women and how God used them in their unique circumstances, giftings, and callings. With a love for Christian biographies, I dove into this book ten years ago to learn the life stories of these five women. One of them was Lilias.” Read the rest of the post here.

When I write, I pray that God will use my writing to bless the people He wants to bless with my words. Like dandelion seeds blown from the palm of my hand, those seeds go out into the world and I pray the Lord will cause those seeds to land on the soil He desires. He also determines how He will cause the growth. We have only to be faithful with the gifts He has given us to steward.

A year later, during our summer trip to the Pacific Northwest, I was invited to write an article for Deeply Rooted Magazine on the life and work of Lilias Trotter. At the time, I was researching even more about her through Miriam Huffman Rockness’ biography, A Passion for the Impossible. At the beginning of the summer, I asked the Lord to guide me to the books He wanted me to read this summer. As we packed for our summer in the Northwest, I picked up this biography and stuffed it into my backpack along with several children’s books, journals, and my Bible.

When asked to write this piece, I was overjoyed to see how the Lord orchestrated all these threads into one woven tapestry, and to have the opportunity to reach so many women around the world in an effort to continue to share Lilias’ legacy of art and ministry in Northern Africa. Below is an excerpt from this biographical piece.

When the Lord calls a soul to Himself, there is an unmistakable dying that occurs at the same time as there is a supernatural giving of life into union with Christ. At this point of receiving that resurrection life and power, the new child of God begins a life-long journey of hearing the continuous call in God’s Word, through the Holy Spirit, to die daily to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). That call of God demands a response. The question then becomes, how will you respond to this Christ-life dwelling within you? This is an account of a young woman who responded to that call with great sacrifice and with a passion for the impossible.

The young Lily became a woman with a way of seeing in regards to spiritual matters, the natural world, and human relationships. Much of this can be attributed to her mother and father, Isabella and Alexander Trotter. The Trotters were an influential and economically prosperous family in mid 19th century England. A dynamic couple, they each possessed a love of nature, adventure, travel and most importantly a love for Christ. In their travels, Lilias’ mother was known for her prayers and evangelism both in England and across the ocean in the New World of America. Their fascination with various subjects, peoples and cultures, prepared Lilias for her future ministry working with people who lived in very different circumstances and contexts than she was accustomed to.

Lilias grew up during an era of celebrated writers, theologians, poets, and artists including the likes of George MacDonald, Bishop Wilberforce, Christina Rossetti and famed art critic, John Ruskin. Perhaps the most spiritually influential of these voices were those of Dwight L. Moody and Hannah Whitall Smith whose writings, devotional material, and evangelistic meetings became for Lilias a source of discipleship that would develop the inward journey of her soul to a deep and abiding surrender to God, and propel her outward as she prepared for a life of serving others.

-Jennifer Harris, Soul Into Blossom: The Life and Work of Lilias Trotter, Deeply Rooted Magazine – Issue 12 The Calling, pg 37

To read the rest of this biographical sketch and savor the artistic talent on display in Lilias’ watercolor paintings, you can purchase Issue 12 – The Calling at Deeply Rooted Magazine.

With joy and delight,
Jen