International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the amazing things many women have accomplished along with shedding light on the needs of so many women around the globe who still don’t have little to no access to healthcare, education and economic opportunities. We thought today would be a great opportunity to highlight a woman who is for the most part was not very well known but had a remarkable story of talent, sacrifice, courage and faith.
Lilias Trotter was born into wealth and an affluent family in England and had a recognized talent for painting and drawing. At a young age, her mother sent some of her drawings to the famous art critic John Ruskin. He recognized her talent and became a friend and mentor. With a promising career ahead of her, Ruskin said Trotter “would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal.”
Instead of following her passion for art, Lilias began working in London teaching and providing help to women on the streets. She would go out alone at night looking for young women who needed a place to stay or something to eat. She would even often encourage them to train in a skill for work.
In 1884, due to exhaustion she underwent surgery that left her heart permanently damaged. Undeterred, Lilias continued to pursue God’s calling on her life and was drawn to the vast dangerous desert of North Africa. Because of her condition, she was initially rejected to join the mission although after Lilias’ determination to go on her own resources they accepted her as an “unofficial member.” She left for Algeria with two other women and said upon entering the country, “Three of us stood there, looking at our battle-field, none of us fit to pass a doctor for any society, not knowing a soul in the place, or a sentence of Arabic or a clue for beginning work on untouched ground; we only knew we had to come. Truly if God needed weakness, He had it!”
She lived for many years in Algeria working with marginalized women and children often under dangerous circumstances. She was a remarkable woman who left her affluent life and a promising career to follow God’s calling on her life to North Africa. You can learn more about her life through a film released today on DVD called Many Beautiful Things. At the end of Lilias’ life, as she lay dying she looked up and exclaimed “A chariot and six horses.” Someone asked her “You are seeing beautiful things?” and she responded “Yes…many, many beautiful things.”
The film captures the beauty of her life, passion and art through her writings and paintings. It is directed by Laura Waters Hinson (As We Forgive) and features the voices of Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones).
Book on Lilias’ life and work:
A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter, Miriam Rockness
A Blossom in the Desert, Miriam Rockness
An excerpt from A Life on Fire: The Life of Surrender by Lilias Trotter
Come in thought to the Sea of Galilee and stand with Peter in the stern of his boat. He is in no dreamland; his surroundings—slippery planks, creaking oars, showers of spray—are tangible enough; but he is straining his eyes on a spot where a dim and beautiful vision dawns out of the twilight. Is it real, or is it a phantom? It is contrary to all experience, but the Form and Voice draw out his heart irresistibly, and he cries, “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.”
You can get so far as an echo of that cry, can you not? “Lord, if it be Thou”—this dim vision is really some fresh revelation of Thyself, unknown to me as yet—“bid me come unto Thee.” And back across all the storm, His voice will ring, “Come.”
“And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.”
He stepped out, that is, into a path of uncertainties. So long as he stayed in the ship, he had solid planks under his feet; more than that, he could steer his own way. But as he swung himself overboard, one uncertain foothold could only be left for another as uncertain. Each step took him further from the place where he could walk by sight, and committed him more helplessly to a walk by faith.
Is it not, perhaps, a consciousness of something of the kind involved in the Master’s word, “Come,” that makes you hesitate, though your heart begins to cry out for Him and will not be silenced?
The old life has been a hard “toiling in rowing,” but you knew what you were about, and could after a fashion hold the helm; but this life of uncertainties, can it be ventured upon? If only you could foresee and measure the future of a life of absolute surrender and faith, you could brace yourself to it; but to yield yourself blindly to an unknown, untried issue, this is another matter. It is a binding the sacrifice to the horns of the altar, not knowing where or when the knife may strike.
But this stepping out at all risks, with the element of uncertainty contained in it, is just where the truth of our surrender is tested, and therefore it must be faced thoroughly. So long as we reserve to ourselves the power of withdrawing to the old life if an emergency arises, there is no real progress possible. Do not, therefore, make the effort in a tentative spirit, feeling for a footing on the water before you loosen your grasp on the boat’s side; you will never find the surface grow firm under you till you let go. “When Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.” Leave hold of the old life of self-will and self-dependence, heedless of consequences; drop down on the wave below as an irrevocable act, leaving no other resource than the one simple aim “to go to Jesus,” “to win Christ,” chance what may. The responsibility lies with Him who has said “Come”; we need a little more recklessness in our faith and obedience.