On Vision and Purpose

“For we walk by faith, and not by sight.” –2 Corinthians 5:7 (KJV)

Last week my bride and I took an overnight trip to the northwest corner of Alabama for my birthday. We toured two different Muscle Shoals recording studios, made famous by a bunch of hit songs in the 1960’s and 1970’s. (You may remember hearing that “Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers; they’ve been known for a song or two…”). We also went to nearby Tuscumbia, where we took a tour of Ivy Green, the birthplace and childhood home of Helen Keller.

You probably learned about Helen Keller in school, or maybe you read her autobiography, “The Story of My Life.” Or perhaps you have read the book or seen the old movie, “The Miracle Worker,” about the work of her teacher and friend Anne Sullivan. Her story is one of the most remarkable of any woman in American history. Winston Churchill called her “the greatest woman of our age.” Mark Twain included her–with Napoleon–among the two greatest characters of the 19th century.

Helen was born into a wealthy family in Tuscumbia in 1880. When she was nineteen months old, she developed an illness that resulted in both blindness and deafness. In that day, most blind and deaf children were institutionalized, but Helen’s parents kept her at home and sought help for her. They consulted with Alexander Graham Bell, who worked with the deaf, and he suggested they hire Anne Sullivan from Boston as Helen’s teacher. This decision would change Helen’s life forever.

Anne arrived at Ivy Green to meet Helen and her family in 1887. Anne Sullivan was a determined young teacher who had lived with blindness herself until undergoing successful surgery. She soon realized the tremendous challenge she faced, since Helen had received little discipline in her young life due to her physical challenges. Anne had to teach her student proper behavior in everyday situations along with academic lessons.

Despite her disabilities, and with great help from Anne, Helen was able to lead a happy and successful life. She mastered Braille by age 10, learned to use a typewriter by age 16, and went on to graduate with honors from Radcliffe College. She became an author and lecturer, met presidents, and traveled the globe, inspiring millions of people around the world until her death in 1968.

Touring her childhood home, hearing the stories of how she learned to communicate, reading her letters–and even seeing the famous water pump where she learned to spell out “w-a-t-e-r”–I was fascinated anew by Helen Keller’s stubborn optimism and faith. I was also challenged by her determination to be an overcomer and to never allow circumstances to dictate her attitude. She never allowed herself to be a victim.

Helen Keller had a sense of purpose and vision for her life, in spite of her obstacles. Someone once asked her about the challenges of being blind, and she answered, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Truly, Helen Keller had a vision and faith, a strength of character that came from the inside out.

In so many ways, even for those of us with physical sight, there are parallels between Helen’s story and our lives. Without Christ, we are blinded by sin, and the ways of this world, and we will continue to walk in darkness until we see His light. And we all must make the choice to walk by faith and not sight, as the apostle Paul wrote. Genuine faith is grounded in hope, and is not based on circumstances, good or bad, but in the faithfulness of God. We trust, even as we persevere, and we press on, knowing that God has a purpose for our lives, and we don’t dare want to miss it.

May our lives be lived with a God-directed vision and purpose, and may we be faithful to the calling He has given to each of us.