Learning to live with blindness

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Bestselling author, speaker, and singer Jennifer Rothschild, who’s been blind since she was a teenager, encourages others to find the blessings hidden within the most challenging circumstances.

Jennifer’s dreams of becoming a commercial artist faded with her blindness, but words and music have replaced her canvas and palette for more than 25 years.

A health crisis, an emotional upheaval, or a physical disability—none of these is a circumstance we would choose to receive; yet each could prove to be the packaging for a very precious gift—a deeper relationship with Christ. This is a truth Jennifer Rothschild has come to know well. A bestselling author, sought-after speaker, gifted singer, wife and mother, she also happens to be blind. Though navigating life in the dark is not without challenges, Jennifer views her blindness as a gift. “In fact,” she says, “I call it a difficult gift. It is one that I continually unwrap and discover in different ways.”

Walking by faith

Jennifer first began to unwrap her difficult gift as a young teen. At age 15, she was looking forward to earning her driver’s license and dreamt of turning her love of drawing into a career as a commercial artist or cartoonist. The only bump in the road seemed to be some vision problems, which she hoped could be corrected with stronger eyeglasses.

When that didn’t help, she and her parents consulted a specialist at a Miami eye hospital.

What they learned was devastating—Jennifer had a rare degenerative disease, retinitis pigmentosa, which would slowly steal her sight and eventually leave her blind. It was a blow, to be sure, but Jennifer and her parents accepted the diagnosis with a quiet grace. In fact, one of the first things Jennifer did after returning home was to sit at the piano and play, by ear, a favourite hymn: “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Learning to live with her encroaching blindness was not easy, and Jennifer was often frustrated by the loss of her autonomy. However, with the encouragement of her parents and her trust in the Lord, she finished high school and went on to college, where she met her husband, Philip. The two have been married for 24 years and are the parents of two sons, Clayton, 21, and Connor, 12.

Like most couples, they have to contend with the everyday issues of married life, but Jennifer’s blindness and the interdependence it requires has fostered a rock-solid partnership. Phil has taken on a lot of duties outside the realm of what a typical husband and father might do, such as heading up the carpool, overseeing homework, and even applying his wife’s fingernail polish. An entertainment management professor at Missouri State University, he also manages Jennifer’s ministry career. Jennifer considers Phil to be one of the greatest provisions God has made for her.

“Over the years, I have recognized how unusual he is. He has a ‘can-do’ spirit. I like to say ‘where there’s a Phil, there’s a way.’ Just when I think that he’s going to get tired of carrying the extra burden because of my blindness, he amazes me,” she says, noting that their sons have learned much from his example of sacrifice and service.

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Since her diagnosis, Jennifer says that one of the hardest lessons she’s had to learn is that God uses painful circumstances to refine us.

The last book she read prior to losing her sight was Joni Eareckson Tada’s 1976 autobiography, which detailed her spiritual journey after being paralyzed in a teenage diving accident.

“She became a hero to me, a hero in my heart, even though I didn’t know I was going to lose my sight,” recalls Jennifer. “During my difficult days, I would think, ‘if she could do it, so can I.’

Sometimes you need to look to someone who embodies faith.”

Today, she hopes that she can provide similar inspiration for others, regardless of the nature of their struggles, through her ministry as an author and speaker.

Beauty for Ashes Women's Conference is an interdenominational, faith-based, non-profit organisation and has been bringing conferences, resources, encouragement and hope to women in southern Africa since 1996.

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