For my beautiful friend, Jennifer Rothschild, the words “It is well with my soul” are much more than the lyrics from a familiar hymn; they represent a foundation upon which many life lessons have been learned…in the dark. At the young age of fifteen, Jennifer was diagnosed with a rare, degenerative eye disease that would eventually steal her sight. Jennifer has taken her message of encouragement across the country speaking at national and regional gatherings and is the author of 9 books, including her newest book, God is Just Not Fair: Finding Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense. A humble privilege to to be sharing at a Fresh Grounded Faith event in January 2015 with Jennifer in Midland, TX — and a joy to have her on the farm front porch today:
This is my story – not yesterday’s story.
It’s today’s story – what it’s like to be blind, age 50, a wife, mom and writer who travels and speaks.
Though blind since a teen because of retinitis pigmentosa, I’m still adjusting.
Blindness challenges me, depletes me, draws tears and questions and sometimes makes me want to quit.
Why? Because it’s tough being a blind woman. But, my friend, it’s tough just being a woman, isn’t it?
Yet, what is tough can make us tougher so join me through the moments of one day in the dark. You may recognize yourself?
Morning begins when the anemic rooster of my talking clock crows. I’m in the kitchen within minutes.
But I walk more slowly than I used to.
My orientation isn’t as good as it used to be.
My first hint things had changed was when I sped toward the kitchen and didn’t realize I’d veered. I thought I was turning into my kitchen, but I was actually at the top of my stairs.
I felt no floor under foot, panicked, wondered where I was falling, figured out it was the stairs way too late and landed half way down, banged up and bummed out.
So, now I’m more guarded when I walk with hand before my face just in case – at least that way, my face is protected.
I don’t like how awkward I look and feel doing this, but morning java bids me come.
I head to the coffee pot, slowly scoop and fill, press tactile buttons and brewing begins. When the coffee maker beeps, I place my “liquid detector” on the mug’s rim and pour. When my detector buzzes, I stop. What a handy invention that has reduced spills burns and frustration!
Then it’s time to wake up our teenage son Connor. I feed him breakfast and pack lunch, help him locate shoes, homework, cell phone, hoodie and all the other things a teenage boy scatters about the house, and he’s off to school.
Then I head to my favorite chair with my talking digital Bible. I love my little device, but I remember holding my red leather bible when I could see, and feeling such intimacy with God while I read.
Now I listen, pray and often type my thoughts into my talking computer. I’m so grateful for the technology that connects me to God in a new way.
Most days I need someone to help me with mail, help me find things I’ve misplaced, take me to appointments, shop, walk me into buildings and help with anything eyes usually take care of.
Dependence is one of the toughest parts of blindness – constantly reconciling my inner capabilities with my outer disability is trying.
People often innocently relate to me based on my outer disability, because it’s most obvious, and risk missing the real me that lives behind blind eyes.
That’s what often exacerbates the isolation of blindness; it prohibits real connection.
Over the years, to compensate for the dependence and potential isolation, I’ve tried to prove myself – be more capable, more organized, more whatever it took to make blindness a bridge that connects me to others, rather than a barrier of separation.
So, an ordinary day for me requires meekness.
I’m learning to bridle my strength, humble myself and let others be strong in my weakness.
Instead of constantly trying to prove myself, I’m learning to surrender daily and let blindness be what God uses to improve me.
As morning continues, I choose my clothes with my electronic devise that detects and announces colors. It confirms I match. I’m careful to keep everything in my closet organized. Talk about labor intensive! It’s tiring being a blind Type A.
On days when I’m not traveling or running errands, I hide away in my home office, which I fondly call the “room of peace.” Usually, I light a coffee-scented candle and play some Chopin.
I use fragrance and sounds to give texture to my world.
I work on my latest project on my talking laptop. My computer voice can even sound British. It makes my manuscripts sound so intelligent! I write until Connor arrives home from school.
Homework and preparing dinner is next.
My kitchen is tactile, with marked dials, labeled measuring cups and recipes on my computer.
It’s challenging managing recipe details, finding ingredients and truly knowing when baking is done. I’ve served plenty of undercooked food!
An ordinary day in the dark challenges my desire to perform perfectly. It demands I reconcile that who I am and what I struggle with are not the same thing.
Blindness causes me to affirm my identity is in God alone – not in what I can or cannot do.
Darkness is benevolent in that way. It is what God uses to keep me acquainted with the liberating truth that I am who He says I am — not what I label myself.
Most weekends, I fly. I pack clothes in large plastic bags to keep outfits orderly. I maneuver airports with my assistant and white cane. Travel is depleting because there’s so much to keep in my head.
I often stay in hotels I’m familiar with. Remodels throw me off, though.
Once when I was alone in a seemingly familiar hotel room, I put away my things and bent down for my bag when an unexpected edge of a newly remodeled half-wall met my eye! I went to the sink and placed a cold cloth on my eye, then reached for a towel. As I bent down, another sharp edge of a newly remodeled half-wall in the bathroom met my other eye!
The pain wasn’t nearly as bothersome as the humiliation I would feel showing up at my speaking event with two shiners!
Those are the moments I look into the mirror, imagine the face I once saw, and think about how much I want to retreat.
I pray and sometimes cry…but I always leave the momentary mirror confrontation stronger, softer and more determined. Why? Because God really is strong in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12: 8, 9) and if we seek Him, we really do find Him—even in our toughest moments.
The tough things in life teach us, train us and tenderize us. They make us wiser and more equipped to love others like they really need to be loved—with empathy and honesty.
When we’re most acquainted with our needs, we are most drawn to God’s provision. When we feel our tears, we can better feel the pain of others.
Every day in darkness there are a million reasons to get bitter and quit. But, there are also better reasons to persevere. The path, even in the dark, is purposeful.
The trials God allows are not without meaning and reason. We all have days in the dark.
How sad to struggle and miss out on the deeper purpose and reward of suffering because we’re angry and walk away from God.
If we quit, get bitter or arrogant, we miss out on the higher gifts—like dependence on Him, deeper intimacy, meekness and empathy.
It’s tough being a woman, especially when life is dark. But, it’s much tougher being a bitter, ungrateful and prideful woman.
Those choices just exacerbate the dark and keep us from seeing the light we long for.
If things are tough for you, or if your life doesn’t make sense right now, hang on.
Trust that God is just…He has a plan and a purpose.
May He give you the treasures of darkness…Isaiah 45: 3
Humbly looking forward to serving with Jennifer at Fresh Grounded Faith in Midland, TX in January and we would both love to meet you there… .
Jennifer’s new book, God is Just Not Fair: Finding Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, was released this week! Jennifer walks through 6 tough questions of faith as your guide and all the while, she holds your hand to comfort. She meets hearts right where they are when life doesn’t make sense. You can read more about the book here.