An Ordinary Childhood
About the Guest
FamilyLife welcomes singer-songwriter Ginny Owens to their staff meeting. Ginny shares how God answered her mother's prayer for her purpose, and talks about her ordinary childhood in Mississippi, despite her blindness. Ginny, who played piano and sang songs with her grandfather since she was knee high, tells what she did to fit in as a teenager.
Ginny Owens shares how God answered her mother’s prayer for her purpose, and talks about her ordinary childhood in Mississippi, despite her blindness.
An Ordinary Childhood
Bob: Before she was three years old, Ginny Owens went blind.She not only realized that her world had changed, but she began to realize that everybody was viewing her differently.
Ginny: What happens, especially when you can’t see, is that people maybe can’t imagine what that would be like—to not see. The only way that they know to react to that is to—I don’t know—maybe just to treat me differently, for lack of a better phrase—maybe that’s shouting because they think I can’t hear or maybe it’s just talking to the person I’m with. For whatever reason, people don’t know how to treat me like normal.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 23rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll get a lesson today in what it means to walk by faith and not by sight with our guest, Ginny Owens. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. I’ve got to tell you—this is going to be a treat. You remember, back last summer, we had Jeremy Camp stop by. He performed for our staff, and we got a chance to dialog with him—great time with him.
Dennis: It was. As our listeners know, Bob has a propensity toward getting his friends, who are music / Christian music artists, here on FamilyLife Today. I dutifully bow and, occasionally, I’ll bring a hunter or a fisherman on. [Laughter]
Bob: But they have to have something redemptive in what they do—
Dennis: There you go! Fishermen are redemptive.
Bob: That’s right. After Jeremy Camp was here, Ginny Owens came by. I said, “Would you mind performing for our staff as well?” We gathered the staff together in our team room, and you and I had a chance to interview her. This was your first time to meet her.
Dennis: It was. You know, Bob, a lot of people have challenges when they enter a profession.
Hers is a very unique challenge. I just have to admire this young lady as to how courageous she is and persevering—she’s had some tough, tough circumstances come her way.
What folks are going to hear, this week on FamilyLife Today, is a great story of redemption.
Bob: And some great music to go along with it. Our staff was gathered—so you’ll hear them as we listen in to the conversation we had recently with Ginny Owens.
[Previously Recorded Interview]
Dennis: As we do this interview, I think it’s important to read a passage of Scripture. In John, Chapter 9 [verses 1-5]: “And Jesus was passing by. He saw a blind man who had been blind from birth. And His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
“’We must work the works of Him who sent Me while there is day; night is coming, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’”
Ginny Owens is a song writer/singer and, now, an author of a brand-new book called Transcending Mysteries. It is kind of the marriage of the Old Testament, and the words of Christ, and her story—as a young lady, who grew up with the gift of singing—a fascinating story as she shares it in her book.
Just in case our audience doesn’t know her, she’s had three—three Dove awards. She’s had six number-one singles. Worldwide, her album sales have sold more than a million. She’s currently the worship leader of a church in Nashville and an adjunct professor at Belmont University.
We would like to welcome you to the broadcast, Ginny.
Bob: Welcome Ginny Owens. [Applause]
Ginny: Thank you.
Dennis: Ginny, you had an interesting beginning. Your mom was cautioned about something that was taking place as you were being formed in the womb. Explain to our audience what that was.
Ginny: My parents both knew that there was a really good chance that I could inherit the degenerative eye conditions that were a part of my dad’s family history. He had inherited those—although he has great vision and he can drive—but my grandmother was totally blind. They knew there was a great possibility that I also might be faced with some of those challenges. My mom prayed that, whatever the case would be, that my heart would be for God and that, even if I couldn’t see, that I would trust Him with my life.
When I was born, it became obvious very quickly that I did have some eye problems.
I did have vision until I was three years old. Then I lost what little vision I had after a treatment that they tried on my eyes.
Dennis: You had a buddy growing up, as a little girl, who marked your life—your grandfather.
Ginny: Yes, definitely. My grandfather was a pastor and just a very gentle soul. I was the first grandchild. My grandfather and I were—were both the introverts in the house. When everyone would come for Thanksgiving and Christmas, he and I would eventually end up hiding somewhere together—[Laughter]—hanging out. He would patiently sit and sing hymns in whatever keys I could play them in, as a child, learning to play piano. He was always wonderful about that and just would talk to me about life. He and my grandmother, in their own way, seemed very strict. We knew we’d better be on our best behavior—
—but still, every time we saw them, they’d take us for ice cream; and we would do fun things together.
Bob: For you growing up, with your grandfather as a friend / as a close companion, and your parents / your family—Jesus was there all along; right?
Ginny: He was! We had our definite twists and turns. My parents divorced when I was pretty young. That was definitely a challenge—but one in which both my parents are wonderful people and both were wonderful to us—my brother and I.
We were very surrounded by folks who love Jesus. We were in church every week—every time the doors were open, we were there and learning. Although I became a Christian at four / at the age of four, I think you learn a lot about who Jesus is, especially, when you face a disability or a physical challenge.
I remember there were several times, in my younger years, when my mom would say:
“You know, Ginny, Jesus is always your best friend; but there are days He’s going to be your only friend. You have to trust Him in that.” There was a very current reality—a presence to Jesus that sort of was obvious to me, at a very young age, I think.
Bob: When you began—and again, I don’t know if you can remember, at age three, beginning to lose your sight—but that had to be a fearful experience, as a young girl—the loss of something that you were depending on.
Ginny: You know, it’s funny—I don’t remember seeing very well, but I do have this memory of looking for my eyes everywhere—like trying to figure out where they were / like looking for them under the couch. See, they were still in my head; but they didn’t work—so I just was looking for them, trying to figure out where I could find them. I really don’t remember, other than that, having any fear or panic around the process. I think that’s the gift of being so young when I lost the little bit of sight that I did have.
My parents were wonderful about just making sure that my childhood was normal. The neighbors would panic because they would look out and see me in the top of the dogwood tree. They would be like, “Umm—should we call the fire department?” My mom would always say: “Ginny’s my careful child. She’ll be fine.” [Laughter] I had roller skates, and I loved skating down steep driveways and riding my bike all over the neighborhood.
Dennis: Yes, I want to stop you there—how did you ride your bike?
Ginny: I don’t know! I think—[Laughter]—I think, once I grew up and realized, “Oh I could potentially go to the wrong house,” it changed my bike riding because then I was just like—all of a sudden, really self-conscience about that / and who might be seeing me and where I might be going—but before that, I just—I knew where everyone’s house was. Obviously, I’d hear the cars and get out of the way—I didn’t think about it.
I keep trying to see if I can apply that same principle to my life now—just, you know, sometimes, you just have to go for it, and do things, and be brave and not wonder: “Oh what if I do this wrong? What if I go to the wrong house?” Obviously, I knew all my neighbors. That helped as well, but there was just a fearlessness.
Once—I remember having to learn to ride without training wheels, and my dad running behind me, and trying to keep the bike on target as parents always do. Then after that, it was good. I loved riding all the time.
Dennis: You also said that you pranced on top of a gymnastics beam.
Ginny: A balance beam—yes.
Ginny: My parents were, again, they let me do anything that other kids were doing. One of those things I got to do was to take gymnastics, which I absolutely loved. I probably wasn’t any good at it. Walking on the balance beam probably was a lot—very helpful for my balance. Learning how to do summersaults and all those things were great for coordination.
I even took ballet. It was fun to pretend to be a princess and to pretend to be graceful, as lots of other kids have enjoyed doing.
Bob: Did you ever ask your mom why she was as hands-off with you as she was? Was she—I’m imagining myself, as a parent—and thinking I would be diving in to try to protect.
Ginny: I think she did in her own way, but I think she knew that I had to learn to be involved in life. I think my dad, just having grown up with a blind person as his mother, he also knew how important it was that I learned to be independent and that I learn to take care of myself.
I would say they weren’t really “hands-off”—they just insisted that I do everything other kids did. In a way, they were more hands-on. My mom—she didn’t want me to have nervous ticks or do different things. Somebody has to tell you: “Hey, the world can see you doing that. You don’t want to do that. You want to look in the direction of the person you’re talking to.”
Those are just cues—social cues/visual cues—that I had to learn. They were really hands-on about teaching me all those things.
Dennis: One of the things that parents can’t protect their children from, whether they have sight or whether they don’t, is the cruelty of kids. One of the things that, as I was reading your book, that I just winced about was what happened to you when you were in the fifth grade.
Ginny: Fifth grade was not my best year, but I have since learned it was not the best year for many people. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes, I want to find out: “How many of you would say, ‘Fifth grade was not a good year for me’?” Yes—lots of folks. [Laughter]
Ginny: Yes, I think it was not so much fun. I went half of my day to—well, maybe a little bit more than that—to a public school. Then I went part of the day to a school for the blind. Most of my time was with kids who could see. They needed someone to pick on, so that often ended up being me.
I remember there was a girl—I even remember her name, which is so hilarious.
Bob: Let’s just go ahead and share it with everybody—[Laughter]
Ginny: It was so unique—I always want to look around on Facebook® and see if she’s still there. [Laughter] She was the popular girl—she was the girl we all wanted to be with and be like. She would come into the lunch room, and she would take my lunch if I brought it in—either if I had a tray or if I’d bring in my lunch box, she would grab it and pull it away. She’d say: “I have your lunch. What are you going to do about it?” Everybody would laugh. Almost like she thought I didn’t know that she had moved it away or something like that—which, of course, I always knew what she was doing—I just didn’t know exactly what to do or how to fight back. She’d pick Rice Krispies® off my Rice Krispies treat, while I was trying to eat it. She was—a real gem. [Laughter]
Compared to things that happen—especially today, with kids getting bullied and so many things like that— it’s minor. I think, at the time, it just highlighted, for me, being different. It felt like the end of the world because you just—you see life through the lens that you have to work with, at that time, which is: “Wow! The popular kids don’t like me. They want to pick on me all the time.”
Dennis: You said in your book that what happened then was the beginning of pervasive feelings of loneliness and isolation—feelings that haunted you well into adulthood.
Ginny: Yes. I did recover from that. I went on to be very involved in school—very proactive about being part of every organization I could—I was a cheerleader; I ran track; I was in choir, and band, and—[Laughter]
Dennis: Hold it; hold it. [Laughter] You ran track—
Ginny: I did.
Dennis: —what did you run?
Ginny: I would run the 440, and the 200 relay, and a couple things like—
Bob: I ran the 440 too.
Ginny: Did you?
Bob: How did you stay in your lane?
Ginny: Oh, I would always have a sighted guide. I had no ability to stay in my lane without a sighted guide—so that helped.
Bob: So a sighted guide—somebody running in front of—how does it work?
Ginny: We would run beside each other. We had these little—kind of a little strap-thing that you would connect to each of your arms. It worked wonderfully. In fact, I’ve been trying to find one of those so I can run with my friends now; but I don’t know where to get them.
Bob: Somebody has to be able to keep up with you though.
Ginny: Well, I had to be able to keep up with them—it was usually guys with really long legs. It was a lot of fun.
Dennis: All the time your grandfather spent with you—plunking on a piano and singing, and writing, and singing along with you—resulted in you spending a good bit of time, as a child, in your room, singing to your dolls—
Dennis: —and writing songs.
Dennis: If I would have asked you what you wanted to be, at that point, when you grew up—
Ginny: I would have said: “I want to be a singer. I’m going to write songs and play them for everyone.” That’s what I thought was going to happen.
Bob: Do you remember any of the songs you might have written at 12, or 13, or 14.
Ginny: Oh yes, definitely.
Bob: Would you pull one out of the old repertoire that maybe nobody’s heard before?
Ginny: One of the first songs I ever remember writing—I thought it sounded just like Amy Grant—Amy Grant and Kid’s Praise combined—[Laughter] —so Psalty and Amy Grant. It went like:
[Singing] Don’t forget the water. Don’t forget the soap.
Doesn’t it sound like Amy Grant?
[Singing] Don’t forget the bathtub or you’ll have to give up hope.
This is the spiritual part:
[Singing] Don’t forget Christ Jesus. He will cleanse your soul ‘cause He’s the only One who can—make—you—whole!
Bob: I think there’s a kid’s album in you somewhere.
Ginny: Well, there’s something—I don’t know. [Laughter]
Dennis: You ended up going to Belmont University.
Ginny: I did—I loved it! Belmont was—I think after—being in Jackson, Mississippi, growing up, and living there / especially in high school, when I was so involved in school—even as I was fighting with my inner self about who I was, and who I was going to be, and if people were ever going to accept me, as a real person, even though I couldn’t see—I also had roots in Jackson. I thought: “I’ll never leave here. This is where I want to be.”
Then I started to hear about Belmont from several folks. They had a scholarship they were giving away to a student who had a physical disability and would potentially need some financial aid, but had been an achiever in school. They ended up giving me the whole thing. That was how I ended up there—
—which is kind of crazy—but God has definitely a sense of adventure and a sense of humor that I am always delighted to know about.
Dennis: You used a phrase—as you were describing what was going on in your life—that I want you to unpack for those of us who can see.
Dennis: You said you wanted to be treated as though you were a real person.
Dennis: Help those of us who see understand why that’s an issue for someone who can’t.
Ginny: That’s a great question. I’m not sure what goes through a sighted person’s head when they encounter a blind person; but I know what goes through my head when I encounter somebody that has a physical or mental disability that is obvious to me / or a challenge that is obvious to me. I want to be really careful what I say—I don’t want to say the wrong thing, and I want to treat them normally—but I’m afraid I’m going to mess up and not do that well.
All that to say, I know what it is to feel a bit of fear when you encounter somebody that you go: “Okay, this person is not exactly like me. They don’t encounter the world the way that I do every day.”
I don’t—it’s hard for me to really know how people look at me—but I think what happens, especially when you can’t see, is that people maybe can’t imagine what that would be like—to not see. The only way they know to react to that is to maybe just treat me differently, for lack of a better phrase—maybe that’s shouting because they think I can’t hear or maybe it’s just talking to the person I’m with.
The other day, I went to get my license renewed because you still have to do that even if you can’t drive. The guy kept telling my friend: “She’s not looking in the right place. Can you tell her to look in the right place?” I was just like: “Wow! This is so complicated,”—like: “If I can’t look in the right place, maybe I can hear you and you could tell me.” [Laughter] There are always just—
—people do not, for whatever reason, people don’t know how to treat me like normal—like they would treat each other.
As a young person, especially as a teenager, I thought the most important thing I could do was to downplay my blindness—to make sure it didn’t define me by almost pretending it didn’t exist. I think I eventually learned that wasn’t the answer—that it does exist. Part of what we do is: embrace it, and talk about it, and confront it—but definitely, it’s hard sometimes to get up and think, “I want to encourage people that I am normal.” Trying to figure out how you’re going to do that every day can be a little bit exhausting, at times; but it’s also a gift in its own way.
Dennis: I really like what you’ve said there because you’ve just helped those of us, who can see, understand that people with all kinds of disabilities—not just those who are blind—want to be treated as human beings, who have normal needs, just like everybody else.
We need to be careful to respect them and not treat them as something less than a person made in the image of God.
Bob: We’ve been listening to the first part of a conversation that we had, not long ago, with Ginny Owens—recording artist, singer, and songwriter. We’re going to hear more from Ginny this week; but I think you made a great point, Dennis—we have to recognize that we all have special needs of one kind or another. We all have challenges that we face; and yet, we want to affirm the dignity and the worth of every human being.
Dennis: Some of our limitations are seen—like after you spent some time with this young lady, you’d notice that she is blind. Others of us have limitations that can’t be seen. We all want to be loved / we want to be cared for. The thing I want to impress on our listeners today is:
“If you’re a single person, you need to learn this art of putting others’ interests above yourself—Philippians, Chapter 2. If you’re married, you already get this lesson because you’re in a very close relationship with someone who has some limitations—but apply it fresh, perhaps—maybe you’ve had an argument the past day or two and you just need to let your spouse know you love them and you’re proud to be married to them.
If you’re raising children, would you implant this kind of heart in their chest?—so that, as they encounter people who have needs, they’ll not recoil away; but they’ll press into them, and love them, and care for them, and speak with respect and dignity to people who do have limitations.
Bob: I’ll just add—if you want to hear some great music, we’ve got some links on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can listen to Ginny singing Be Thou My Vision and some of the songs that she is best known for. Watch the videos.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’re interested in a copy of Ginny’s hymns CD, it’s called Say Amen. We’ve got that in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center as well, along with the book that Ginny has written with Andrew Greer, called Transcending Mysteries: Who Is God, and What Does He Want from Us?
Again, you’ll find all of this when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Or if you’re interested in the book or the CD, and you’d like to order by phone, call 1-800-FL-TODAY. So, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, here in this week, where we are celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States, we want to make sure that you know that we are thankful for you! We’re thankful that you listen each day. We’re thankful when we hear from you and you share with us about how God has used this program in your life.
In fact, we heard recently from a school teacher who said, “I didn’t think I needed to listen to FamilyLife Today because I’m a single woman.” She said, “But the things you’ve been talking about are helping me, as a school teacher, as I work with young people.” So she said, “I’m tuning in regularly.” That’s a great encouragement to us. We just want to say, “Thanks for listening.”
Thanks for supporting the ministry of FamilyLife Today as well. We are listener-supported. We depend on your donations to be able to accomplish all the things God is doing through this ministry.
If you can help with a donation today, we’d like to express our thanks by sending you a copy of a book that Barbara Rainey has written for families. It’s called Growing Together in Gratitude—a collection of stories designed to be read aloud or older children can read them for themselves—stories of thanksgiving / stories of gratefulness—all designed to promote a spirit of thanksgiving in everyone’s heart. We’ll be happy to send you a copy of the book when you make a donation, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Or you can request it when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Or you can mail your donation, along with your request, to FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear more from Ginny Owens; and we’ll hear some music tomorrow, including the song that she is probably best-known for—the song, If You Want Me To. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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