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She Wanted to See and Hear

“Unruly, strong-willed.” She wanted to see and hear. She was six years old when she met her teacher, Anne Sullivan 136 years ago this week. Born with her senses of sight and hearing, Helen Keller began to speak at six months, and walked at one year. However, at 19 months of age she contracted an illness which produced a high body temperature. As a result, she lost both sight and hearing, as well as the ability to speak.

She Wanted to See and Hear

Locked into a sightless, soundless world, Helen lashed out, kicking, throwing raging tantrums, and giggling uncontrollably when happy.

The Kellers tried hard to find help for their child, and were finally referred by a physician to Alexander Graham Bell, an authority on the deaf. Bell referred them to the Perkins Institution, which recommended Anne Sullivan as a teacher.

creative shot of human ears on dark background

Photo by shutter_speed on

Only twenty when she arrived at the Keller home, Sullivan’s own vision had been impaired by a childhood infection. As a result, she attended the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where she learned the manual alphabet. Later, several operations improved Sullivan’s weak eyesight.

The Miracle Worker

Many of us have seen the wonderful portrayal of Annie Sullivan’s attempts to socialize and teach her stubborn, obstinate student in the movie, The Miracle Worker.  When Sullivan persisted with the girl, the Kellers often interfered, cushioning their daughter. Finally, Sullivan required that she and Annie move into a cottage on the property where she could teach without interruption.


The breakthrough came when Sullivan thrust her charge’s hand under a water pump and continued to spell “w-a-t-e-r” in Keller’s palm. After learning “water,” Keller ran from one object to another, pulling Sullivan behind her, asking to know the “letter name” of the item, such as the ground, or a tree. By the end of the day, she had learned thirty words!

Keller became an eager student, learning to read, write and speak. With her teacher’s assistance, she graduated, cum laude, from Radcliffe College in 1904, at twenty-four. She and Sullivan worked together for 49 years, until Sullivan’s death.

In 1890, Keller began speech classes at Boston’s Horace Mann School for the Deaf. She worked for twenty-five years to learn to speak so that others could understand her.

Key Principles

Rereading this true story, I was reminded of three key principles:

Helen wanted to see, to communicate

She wanted to get out of that locked shell in which she was trapped. She was wild and unruly until she found a focus, a purpose. Aren’t we sometimes like that, wanting to see, to have purpose, to know why we are here on this earth? And scrambling about when we feel we don’t have one?

She wanted to see and hear

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Isaiah 53:6a NLT

She needed a savior (lower case “s”)

Annie Sullivan stepped into Helen’s life, laying aside her own aspirations and desires to commit forty-nine years to this girl’s development into all she could be. And Keller’s life was never the same.

We too need a Savior (capital “S”). Scripture says we walk in darkness until we meet Jesus, the Light of the World. And when we do, He changes our lives, sometimes turns them upside down, but gives us purpose, hope and meaning. And He commits to “never leave you, never forsake you” – much more than 49 years, and on into eternity with Him.

Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. Isaiah 53:6b NLT

Annie Sullivan was persistent

She didn’t give up on her charge. She continued to teach, even when the parents interfered, when the letters she spelled into Keller’s hand made no sense to the girl. She was faithful, not only until the light of clarity came on and Keller began to understand, but until Sullivan’s death.

God Calls Us

God graciously persists in calling us to Himself. I just listened to a fascinating interview between Pastors Greg Laurie and Chuck Smith (featured in the current, excellent movie, “The Jesus Revolution”). Interview is at Smith said he knew when God tugged on his heart to commit himself to Jesus. I knew the same when, at eight years of age, I felt God tug on my spirit and I prayed to receive Christ as my personal Savior. Oh, there have been questions, growth, and sometimes doubts along the way, but when the Spirit moves, He is persistent. And we have a choice–to respond or to reject.

And He persists in loving His children. We sin, we grieve His heart. But He is so ready to forgive and renew when we agree with Him about our sin and turn from it, as a good parent welcomes a child who has disobeyed and then confesses.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. * John 1:9, NLT

Someone once said God is a gentleman. He won’t force Himself on anyone. But oh, how He wants each of us to be reconciled to Himself through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, Three Principles:

  • Do we want to see? To see truth from God’s perspective rather than God from man’s perspective?
  • We need a Savior
  • He is persistent; we choose our response.

Have you experienced persistent love in some way? I’d like to hear from you.


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