You may not have heard of Lilias Trotter, but you know the hymn she inspired—“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” After you read Lilias Trotter’s biography, A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness, you’ll never hear that song without remembering Lilias and what she did. She left her life of privilege in England and her promising art career to settle in hostile Algeria. Dismissing her because she was a woman, the Algerian men accused her of being a British spy. But for the sake of the gospel, she never quit, no matter how many obstacles were in her path. You’ll marvel as you read about this woman’s passion for the impossible, her brilliantly gifted life, and the miraculous ways the Lord used her to share the gospel.
In 1864, Lily’s father, Alexander Trotter, became ill. He died in 1866, after struggling with his illness for two short years. It was a terrible blow for his wife Isabella. It was very difficult for her to be a widow at the age of 50, with three young children and others still living at home. This awful shadow of death cast a dark shadow over the whole family, including 12 year old Lilias. She deeply loved her father. His death shook her to the core of her being.
Lilias Trotter was loved at a young age for her mature character. At only ten years of age, friends noticed her mature personality. Her young friends looked up to her as a special person. She was serious, yet merry. She was so warm and full of sympathy, that others sought her out for advice. She was also fun loving and had a balanced sense of humor.
God also blessed Lilias with a sound mind. She was artistic and sensitive to natural beauty all around her. Genetics and nurture from her family developed her natural intelligence and logical thinking. Even as a young girl, people could see that she would be a remarkable woman.
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Lily’s extended family enjoyed vacations together twice a year. These were a regular high point in Lily’s life and for the entire Trotter family. Their winter holiday was often at the Epping Forest in Essex.
Epping Forest is a favorite local for British novels. Artists, musicians and poets frequent this lovely forest. It remains a popular location for running, horseback riding, mountain biking and there is even a motorcycle speedway there today.
It was during her summer holidays, on the east coast at Cromer, that Lilias forged her first true friendship. Her cousin Edith Chapman (Barclay) became her dear friend.
One of their most enjoyable activities was taking high speed donkey cart rides through the local woods and ferns. They often enjoyed a picnic lunch and harvested wild ferns and blackberries.
Lilias enjoyed both her large family and her relatives. Some of her happiest childhood memories were of her play times with her brothers and sisters. Lily and her “baby brother” Alec even created a secret language that no one else could understand. Their little sister Margaret aka Minnie often tagged along when Alec and Lily took walks in London’s Regent’s Park. Lilias enjoyed the mature stimulation she received from her older sisters, Jaqueline and Emily, and her older brothers, Couts, William and Edward.
Lily’s parents were opposites in many ways. Alexander Trotter was inclined to be melancholy and introspective. Isabella Trotter was full of joy and enthusiasm. Together they created a well balanced home for Lily Trotter to grow and develop into a passionate personality. Alexander looked at the fine details of objects. Isabella looked at the big picture, ignoring “minor” details.
The Trotter family was full of faith, passion and intelligence, creating a fertile landscape for Lilias to grow and mature in her unique personality.
Lilias’ father, Alexander Trotter, was a man of deep personal faith. His religion was more than a Sunday morning event. He was a member of the Church of England. During his months of travel in the USA, he made a point to encourage others in their personal faith. His faith in Christ motivated him to help ministries like the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Through the YMCA, Alexander shared his faith in prisons, schools, and even insane asylums.
Alexander Trotter was also very interested in the revival movements of the 1850s. He attended meetings of the Great Awakening, examining their Biblical basis and conduct. Lilias learned of all these events through the letters her mother sent her.
Lilias’ father, Alexander Trotter, shared many of the same passions that Lilias enjoyed during her life.
He loved people. He made it obvions to all that he would never say a negative word about another person. Even when provoked, he refused to criticize the actions of others.
He respected others. It was of no importance to him if the other person was a slave, land owner or high society politician. He diligently listened to their point of view.
He bravely sought new experiences. He lived life to the fullest extent possible. He climbed mountains. He drove a train. He stood on the deck of a ship to see teh force of an Atlantic Ocean hurricaine.
He passionately studied the wonders of nature. He observed the awesome power of Niagra Falls from a ship. He studied the wonders of nature from his armchair, through sientific journals and popular magazines.
Lilias’ artistic talent was already blooming at only 5 years of age. Her mother left a sketchbook with Lilias to draw important events during her parent’s absence. The first drawings were of the docks, with people and ships drawn in perspective and detail uncommon in a child her age.
Other drawings that fill the sketchbook include women and men in their beautiful clothes, a castle, a tree house, kittens, cats and toys.
Toward the end of the sketchbook we find drawings of Advent and Christmas.