Why Such Grace?
Bob Lepine: We will walk by faith and not by sight.
In 1975 there was an English singer-songwriter who wrote a song that was a popular song for a while in the states. The first verse says, “A friend of mine is going blind and through the dimness he sees so much better than I.”
The Bible has a lot to say about blindness. It talks about the reality of physical blindness, which is a hardship. It talks about the reality of spiritual blindness, which is a calamity and is devastating.
I thought about that the first time I saw Jennifer Rothschild’s book Lessons I Learned in the Dark: Steps to Walking by Faith not by Sight. When Jennifer was twelve, she began to experience eye problems, and by the time she was fifteen, as she was trying to get her driver’s license, she realized that she was losing her sight.
She has learned great spiritual truths as she has walked by faith and not by sight for now more than 20-plus years. Her new book is called Self-Talk; Soul-Talk: What to Say When You Talk to Yourself.
She is here with us along with her husband Phillip. She’s the mother of two. They live in Springfield, Missouri.
Would you please give a warm welcome to Jennifer Rothschild.
Jennifer Rothschild: Well hi, girls. I want you to know I’m a true woman with colored hair, fake nails, and whitened teeth.
Do I have a witness in the house of God? (applause)
Hey, true women tell the truth, and so that’s why I just wanted you to know my testimony. (laughter)
Here’s what I want you to consider this morning with me . . . You have had a lot to think about. We have had so much truth presented to us, and if we take that truth and only observe it from a distance, we may miss out. So I want to ask you this morning, as you join me in my story, examine your story and see God’s story.
I’m 46 years old. So I went shopping a few months ago because I was looking in my closet to find some things to wear, and things weren’t fitting like they used to. So I got on the scale. I’m going to tell you a little more of my story in a minute, but my scale talks to me. When I stepped on it . . . it has a British accent. It’s just less painful when it sounds elegant. (laughter) So I stepped on my scale, and I thought, “Huh! I’ve really only gained a pound, but things have moved.” My clothes weren’t fitting.
A friend of mine said, “You need to go to Dillard’s and talk to a lady named Julie, and she will set you up with certain undergarments that will change your life.”
So I went to Dillard’s. I met Julie. I told her I’d only gained two pounds but nothing was in its same rightful place where God designed it to be, and I needed help. She said, “I have just the thing for you.” So I waited. “I’ll be right back,” she said. My anticipation grew.
She came to me with something in her hand that I, of course, could not see at that point, which she began to describe. “This is what I call the Cadillac version of Spanx. Now, when you put this on, it will stretch from above your knee calf to the top of your rib cage, and it will make your clothes fit again.”
I thought, “This is like a miracle, and it’s a Cadillac, and I don’t even care how much it costs. Hand it to me!” And so I put my hands out, and Julie put this little piece of wrinkly fabric in my hands that was about the size of an Ace bandage I would put on my 11-year old son. (laughter) I stretched and pulled, and I thought, “There’s no way this goes on a woman’s body and she lives to tell about it. You’re just not going to be able to breathe!”
But even so, I went into the fitting room. I pulled on the Spanx. If you’ve ever worn them, you understand what I’m talking about. Once I got them on and put my clothes over them, I realized I no longer needed a new wardrobe because I had Spanx, and everything suddenly was put right back into the place where God had once intended it to be. It broke the laws of gravity. It made me a very happy woman!
I’m telling you right now, I love Spanx so much that I created my own verse for you. Here is your inspirational verse for the day . . . get ready. Bible scholars, here it comes. “If any woman be in Spanx, she is a new creation. Old rolls are tucked away; behold, all things have become smooth. (laughter) It’s in Titus 2. You just missed it last night. It’s in Titus 2.
Do you know what I would have missed if I had not taken a risk on something that seemingly seemed impossible? What I would have missed. Some of you are hearing truths this weekend, and you’re thinking, “That is impossible.” Here’s the deal, girls: Do you know what you will miss if you’re not willing to take the risk and give it a try?
It was the late 70s, and I was a teenage girl. I was 15, and I had gotten my first diary. I would write down everything in my diary that mattered to me, and you know when you’re 15, a lot of things matter. I would write down what I wore to school and what I wanted to be when I grew up and if a boy talked to me. In the margins of my diary I would doodle, because I loved art. I loved to draw.
In fact, I wanted to be an artist. In fact, I had a little bit of a degree of talent because I was asked by my class to represent us on field day as the artist. So I got a brand new white bed sheet, and I took it to school this particular morning. A friend of mine and I unwrapped it and unfurled it upon the brightly lit gymnasium floor. As I began to sketch in the middle of this sheet, I noticed that the sheet was dirty. There were little patches of gray up toward the top left-hand corner. Of course, I was bothered by this, and I went to wipe it away, but I couldn’t seem to get the dust off the sheet.
The more I really focused on the detail of what I was drawing, the more I noticed it over toward the right side of the bed sheet. It appeared that someone had taken a Sharpie and jammed it, leaving dark, black spots. Well, of course I tried to clear those off, but they remained.
I remember saying to my girlfriend, “I don’t get this. We just unpackaged this sheet. It should not be dirty. This should be bright, clean white.” To which my friend said, “Jennifer, I don’t know what you’re talking about. This sheet is completely white.”
That was the first time I had a hint that something was wrong with my eyes. It wasn’t long after that my mom and I were going to visit a friend who lived in an upstairs apartment. As she and I walked up the stairs, I was stumbling. My mom stopped mid-stride and asked, “Jennifer, what’s wrong? Can you not see those stairs?” My response: “What do you mean, Mom? You can?”
Well, it didn’t take long until I was at the eye doctor, and then an eye hospital in Miami, Florida. After several days of testing at this eye hospital, the doctors had my folks and me sit down in a conference room where they began to explain what they had discovered.
I had a disease in both of my retinas called Retinitis Pigmentosa. I’d had it for several years but just hadn’t really been able to detect that it was present. But within a few months as a 15-year old, it became so rapidly active that I was declared legally blind.
What it meant was that a significant portion of my retina had already deteriorated, but moreover, the prognosis of the disease was that the entirety, the remainder of my retinas would deteriorate until I was declared totally blind. That’s just not what I expected to hear that day.
Blindness is one of those words like cancer, like divorce, like autism, like bankruptcy that we just don’t ever expect to hear, and we certainly don’t expect it to become our word—the kind of word that invades our ideal picture of what faith is supposed to be, the kind of word that falls deep to the bottom of your soul, and it scrapes everything on the way down that you once anticipated gave you security and made sense. It left me silent. My folks were silent also.
We got in the car, and we began to ride home. It was about a 45-minute drive. We lived in Miami, Florida at the time. That’s where the hospital was. On the way home my daddy didn’t speak as he gripped that steering wheel. I know he was praying. I know he was also trying to figure out how this could be fixed. My mother sat to his right. Women understand, whether you are a mother or not, what my mom felt—that intuitive desire and need to take it upon herself so I didn’t have to deal with it.
I remember sitting in the backseat and feeling my fingertips and wondering, “Am I going to have to read Braille, and, more importantly, are boys going to want to date me? Am I going to get married? How am I going to go to college?” I had lots more questions than answers.
We finally got home, and I went into our living room where our old upright piano sat. We’d had that piano since I was eight years old. My mother bought it at a garage sale. I’d had piano lessons for several years, on again, off again, so my skill level reflected it. On this day when we came in from that silent ride, the silence was finally broken as I began to play the piano.
On this day, of course, I could no longer see to read any of the music I once read—even though it had been only in the key of C or D that I could really play. Those are the musicians who are laughing. (laughter) I did not on that day play a song I had once memorized, but instead I began to play a song I never played before, and the song that flowed from my heart through my fingers filled my living room is the same song that still fills my darkness today with a hope and a truthfulness, because it was that old beloved Protestant hymn that says, “It is well with my soul.”
You know what I have learned as a true woman who navigates in the darkness of faith and blindness? It doesn’t have to be well with your circumstances for it to be well with your soul. We don’t wait for our circumstances to change so that we can experience a level of contentment in our faith. We ask God to change us in the midst of those circumstances.
People have asked me over the years: “Do you pray for healing?” To be quite honest with you, I don’t. Now there are days that are really dark and really bad where I will just cry out to God, “Please, take it away!” But as a matter of my own prayers and spiritual disciplines, I don’t ask God for healing because I trust Him to do it. I know He’s capable, and I want to rest in His sovereignty.
You know what I really need more than healing? I need contentment. Because if I don’t learn contentment in the midst of these circumstances, then if by the mercy of God He delivers me from it, I will be grumpy about something else.
There are women in this room who are not redeeming the difficulty God has allowed in your life because you assume you’ll be content when your circumstance changes. But my sisters, true contentment only comes in the midst of the difficult circumstance because God makes it well with your soul, not always your circumstance.
I went back to high school. Because there were such radical changes in my eyes, you can imagine it called for some real adjustments. So my folks took me out of my very large public high school in Miami and put me in a smaller Christian school in Miami, Florida. Word got around real quickly in this school that the new girl couldn’t see. Well, that meant that the new girl became very popular to be asked on dates because these boys knew I couldn’t see how ugly they were. (laughter) It was true. I couldn’t see my face; I couldn’t see their faces. There were a lot of adjustments that came during that time.
For me, one of the most difficult was this recognition that what I longed for I would probably never have. It wasn’t just becoming an artist, though that was a deep disappointment, what I really longed for was independence, an ability to drive a car, to make my own decisions, to look in the mirror and decide if I liked the color that I was wearing that day. Suddenly, independence on every level was being stripped away, consequently creating an insatiable thirst for independence. I figured the only way to quench it would be to go off to college.
By this time I was a senior in high school, and I had decided that would do it. So I was going to go an hour and a half north of my home to Palm Beach Atlantic University. That was 90 miles north. You know, close enough to be close, far enough to be far. So that summer after I graduated from high school, I got trained to walk with a white cane. So I had a sense of mobility and a little bit of confidence, and I even learned how to navigate those busy streets in West Palm Beach. I was feeling real good about it.
It was 1982. That meant that my mother and I went shopping for the rainbow comforter, the rainbow soap dish, the rainbow shower curtain, the rainbow wall hangings, the rainbow dust ruffles, the rainbow towels. Everything was rainbows in 1982 for my dorm room. I was ready to go. I bought all my Espadrilles—do you remember 1982? All my Chino pants and my Oxford shirts. I thought I was so happening and ready. So on August 15th I was to be a freshman on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic.
I thought it was the best idea ever until August 14. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon it hit me: “I’m about to go off to college, and I don’t know anybody. Who’s going to help me?” I remember calling my mom out into the front yard and crying and negotiating and lamenting. “Mom, I can’t do this. I don’t know what I was thinking! I can’t go to college! Who’s going to tell me what food is on my plate? Who’s going to help me know I ironed wrinkles out of my pants rather than into them? How am I really going to know if it’s safe to cross that street in the middle of the campus? How am I really going to know?” I was terrified.
My mom, who wiped away her own tears, said, “Jennifer, you have to go to college. You chose to go to college. You have prepared to go to college, and you’ve got to go, but you only have to go to college for two weeks. If you can’t handle it, your daddy and I will come pick you up, and you can keep the rainbow comforter.”
Now that was quite an arrangement. We put all thirteen of my Espadrilles in the trunk of the Ford Fairmont, and we drove 90 miles north. I remember hugging my mom in the parking lot of Northwood Dorm. We tearfully parted ways. I flipped out my cane with just enough attitude to get through fourteen days, no more, no less.
Well, within the first fourteen days of being a freshman on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic, I met this guy. (laughter) He was in the cafeteria line, and he was like no other guy I had ever met. Now, because it was 1982, he had bushy, kinky, blonde hair. He had the most charismatic personality and his voice smiled. I’m telling you, I liked everything about this guy.
I remember calling my mom within the first fourteen days and saying, “Oh Mom, I’ve met this guy named Phillip Rothschild. Please don’t ever make me come home from college again!” (laughter)
Well, it took him four long years, but he did accept my marriage proposal, and that’s the gentleman you saw walk me on stage.
Now here’s the deal, ladies: For some of you in this room, it’s August 14, and some of you are looking at your future, and you’re thinking, “What was I thinking? I can’t deal with all of this truth. This is a little much for me. When I look into my future, it’s uncertain. When I open my family photo album, the pictures aren’t so attractive. I’m not sure this is something I really can do.”
So much of the reason we hover in the front yard of our life, and it’s always August 14, is because we are so dominated by our feelings.
I was terrified. Fear is a legitimate emotion. You should pay attention to it, but you should allow it to become for you an intuitive detective that holds the hand of God and walks you to the place of truth. You don’t assume that fear is your destination. Fear is your tour guide that takes you to the place of truth so you can discern whether it is a godly, appropriate fear or not. When we are women who really want to walk with God, that means we truly walk by faith, not feelings.
Some of us are hovering right now on August 14 and saying, “Oh, what if? What if I really do trust God more than my feelings? What if?” or, “What if I really do try to really trust God and follow His Word and my husband doesn’t take it well? What if? What if?”
Some of you are so dominated by fear that it’s like this: “What if I don’t get the spinach cleaned, and my family gets E. coli? What if my husband loses his job? What if my baby never recovers?”
“What if” is the language of fear and speculation. We as women who want to truly follow God and walk by faith, we don’t speak “What if.” We speak “What is.”
Here’s what is: God who called you is faithful.
The same God in the book of Isaiah chapter 45 who said, “I will give you treasures in darkness,” is the same God who is speaking to you. It may be August 14, and you may be looking ahead of you. You may be seeing nothing but darkness and uncertainty, but He is the God who will give you treasures in darkness, riches that are stored and hidden in those secret places, but you may never receive them if you choose to cling to that which is known and certain if you hover in the front yard of your life and you always let it be August 14, saying, “What if? What if?”
Be women who says, “Here’s what it is: God is faithful, and I trust Him more than I trust my feelings.”
I don’t think I understood completely on August 14 when my mother wiped away her own tears what she was really dealing with. Several years ago I was on the phone with a writer for a magazine. She was doing a great interview, and near the end of this interview, she said to me, “I’d love to talk to your mother. Do you think your mom would be willing?”
I said, “I’ll ask,” but I really thought my mom wouldn’t be interested. Here’s the reason: My mom is a one-on-one lover of people, and she will give and pour out, but she’s very private. This kind of setting probably wouldn’t be one she would be comfortable with, and I totally honor and respect that. But even so, I called, and I said, “Mom, would you be willing?” She hesitated. It wasn’t for the reasons I expected.
She said, “I can’t. I can’t answer those questions for that writer because to her your blindness is a story, but to me, your blindness is a wound that really hurts.”
That’s the truth of life. It hurts. It’s not well with your circumstances, and when it’s not well with your circumstances, you can ask, “What if? What if?” But I want to remind you of something I learned from my mother that day that she never actually spoke with her lips.
My mom carries a burden for my blindness that I believe is much heavier than the burden I actually carry for myself. There are some women in this room who know exactly what I meant by that statement because you’re a hero—whether you’re a mom who has a child who was born with some really special needs, whether you’re a daughter who’s watching your parents age and it is breaking your heart, whether you’re a wife who is looking at that husband who has just received a diagnosis and you are not only terrified for him but you’re terrified for yourself. You know what it feels like to bear that heavy weight of compassion and empathy.
Here’s what I want to remind you of: God’s grace is sufficient. In 2 Corinthians chapter 12, verses 8 and 9, the apostle Paul said to God, “I’ve got something in my life that hurts.” He called it a thorn, and it hurts. Whether you possess the thorn or someone you love has it, it hurts. When Paul asked the Father, “Take it away; take it away; make it go away,” God responded with grace because, you see, thorn removal isn’t sufficient in and of itself. Only grace is sufficient.
So those of you who have the responsibility to watch that person you love carry a heavy burden, may I just remind you that what God has given me as the one who carries the burden of blindness, what God has given that parent, that child, that sister, that friend you love who has to carry the burden of cancer or autism or Alzheimer’s, God has given us participant grace. It’s adequate grace to participate with the burden.
But you, my hero, sister who has to watch and cry and pray those silent prayers and cry those invisible tears, God’s given you what I call spectator grace. Now that’s not in 2 Corinthians, though I’m thinking when I get to heaven Paul and I will discuss that. (laughter). The point is, whether God has granted you the sufficiency of His grace in the package of being a participant or a spectator, His grace is sufficient. So rest in His grace. Rest in His grace.
God’s grace in Titus 2:11 is what equips us and empowers us to say, “No,” to ungodliness. But His grace is also what equips us and empowers us to cease our striving and allow Him to be the One who wills and works within us for His good pleasure. So rest.
I was in church last year, well, I go every Sunday. (laughter) Just to clarify, one Sunday last year I was in church, and our teacher in small group was going through the book of Luke. He was at the place of discussing the Good Samaritan, and I remember sitting there and thinking, “Oh, great. I know this story.” I know you never do this, but as soon as Cliff started reading about the Good Samaritan, I started making my grocery list and thinking how I was going to help Conner with his homework that afternoon, and I caught myself.
As I caught myself, I said, “Lord, I’m sorry. I want to be very present in this story.” I want to be present because whether it’s your story, whether it’s my story, whether it’s the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told, every story has the potential of being God’s story, so we don’t want to miss it. So I asked God, “Help me in this story, Lord. Show me who I am.” I’ve done this for years. You may have, too.
As Cliff was reading about the man who was on the journey, and he got beat up by robbers, and he was left for dead on the side of the road, then Cliff began to read how some men came by him: the Priest, the Levite. They, of course, were too busy or had other reasons for not helping the poor, broken, injured man. But then along came the Samaritan, and, of course, so counter-cultural, he helped the man who was wounded. He made great sacrifice and took a great risk to do so.
As I was listening, I thought, “Hmmm, am I the Priest? Am I the Levite?” I’ve been a Christian for many years. Sometimes Christians can get really busy in their religion and miss out on actually ministering and noticing true needs. Not me! I’m in public ministry. I’m kind of like a professional Christian. (laughter) Like a Priest or a Levite. Am I them?
Well, that day I really asked the Lord, and I didn’t feel like I was the priest or the Levite. So I thought about the Samaritan. “God, am I the Samaritan? I have lost so much in my life, but it is from that well of loss that You have filled me that I have so much to give. Is that me? Am I the Samaritan?”
On that day, I couldn’t think of a reason I was the Samaritan. I remember asking the Lord, “Wait a minute! I’m not the Priest; I’m not the Levite; I’m not the Samaritan. Lord, I’ve got to be in this story.” Then it dawned on me. There is a fourth man in that story. That’s me. And, sisters, that’s you. We’re the broken one on the side of the road who’s been beat up by life.
Some of us feel the victimization of what we’ve experienced. Some of us feel like we’ve been left for dead. And here’s the thing: In our spiritual condition, we are destitute unless someone comes and binds our wounds and meets our needs.
You see, even in blindness I had such a sense of being spiritually elite. I wanted to be the religious one or the helping one. In other words, I wanted God to need me much more than I needed God.
I began to weep as I heard the Scripture read. I don’t want to be spiritually elite. I want to recognize my own brokenness. And here’s the thing: Blindness is not what makes me broken. If it is not well with your circumstance, that is not what makes you broken. That is simply what God can use to introduce you to your own brokenness.
Therefore, do not resist that which God has allowed to shape you and refine you and make you a true woman, a woman of beauty that is refined only through experiencing the brokenness that comes in its place.
On this stage, I don’t know if you can see it, but I have a stool. I didn’t always use a stool when I spoke. Several years ago I was invited to be a guest with the Women of Faith tour. If you’ve ever been to one of their events, it’s in an arena, and their stage is in the round. So the crew and my husband, whom I call “Dr. Phil,” by the way, came up with a way by which I could navigate the entire stage and therefore speak to every element of the audience, and they did so by putting rugs in the shape of a plus sign. At the end of each rug was a monitor. I would walk toward each rug; I would hear the monitor; I would feel where the rug ended; I would go to the next, and it worked. I could navigate. You know what I loved about it? I felt normal.
About six months ago, I went through some real changes. Some of it’s just my age; some of it’s just what happens when you mourn a loss through the stages of life. Sometimes it takes you off guard. I was just really struggling, and one of the ways I was mostly impacted was through my orientation. I would stand up to teach to the left wall and had no idea I was speaking that way. I would hear my husband and my assistant coughing wildly to try and help me know where to look. First couple of times, of course, I would laugh it off, and then it just wasn’t funny.
I remember in the month of September, halfway through the message, being so lost on stage, not knowing where I was, not even being able to find the stool, and beginning to weep. I wept throughout the entire message. I couldn’t even do a book signing. I wept in the bathroom. I went back to the hotel room, and I wept. I woke up crying. I do trust God more than my feelings, but I was drowning in a Niagara of hopelessness.
I remember asking God, “I want to be the Priest and the Levite and the Samaritan. I don’t want to be that man. I don’t want to be broken. I don’t want to have to get up and be meek. I want to be strong. I just want to write books and do podcasts.” You don’t have to have eye contact or know where you are when you do those things.
God graciously, because it is grace that empowers us to respond according to His kindness and His will, has helped me to refasten the bridle of blindness on to my life, and allow it to not be that which defines me but once again allow it to be that which refines me and that which He uses as a cross in my life, a place where I can surrender.
A guy named Greg sent me an email recently that said, “I have cancer. I have faith. I don’t know how to have both.” We began an email correspondence, and after about six months, he emailed and said his cancer was in remission. I was thrilled. Then I received an email months later from Greg. “Dear Jennifer, it’s Greg again. The cancer is back, and I am so scared.”
I read my next email. Of course, my computer talks also, so as I was listening to the next email. It was from a woman. I remembered her. She had been at one of my conferences just a few weeks earlier. She had been very pregnant, and she wrote to tell me that her baby was born, but her baby was stillborn. She was devastated.
One of the things about walking with Jesus for a long time is He allows you to be full of truth and grace. I remember how mercy just blindsided me that day, and I wept over those emails. You know what my spiritual response was? “Oh God, why? Why cancer? You healed it once. Why couldn’t You heal it again? Why? Why stillborn babies? You can make babies be born on earth. Why did You let it be born in heaven? And God, why blindness? Why?”
I went to my piano and just tried to process what I had read and felt and thought and prayed. As I was playing the piano, it was as if, in my mind’s eye, an image of the cross appeared. My questions transitioned from, “Why cancer and why blindness?” to “Why grace?” That’s what we really don’t deserve. Why forgiveness? Why peace? How dearly the spiritually elite, when we, as the broken man on the side of the road, have been given that which we don’t deserve.
It may not be well with your soul, but when you come to the cross, you’ll realize that God has made it well with your soul.
You may struggle with so many “what if’s” in your life, but when you come to the cross, you see what it is, and what it is is divinely unfair and amazingly equipping that you are able to walk with grace in this life. So don’t resist.
I know many of the women in this room have been to church, but I’m asking you this morning, “Have you been to the cross?”
He said, “The cancer’s back.” He’s afraid.
He wonders why; so do I.
And his greatest battle is against his fear;
It’s so unclear. We wonder why
The God who heals won’t reveal Himself in ways we understand.
She said, “Her baby never had a chance to breathe;”
So she grieves; so do I.
And she struggles with the bitterness and the loss;
But she looks to the cross, while she cries.
And in the mystery we trust and we adjust, though we wonder why.
Oh take us to Your cross and cry each of our tears.
Hide us in Your tomb, crucify our fears.
We’ll praise You with our pain, though the mystery remains.
You are a God who cries; You are a Savior who died.
We can trust You with why.
Oh, yes, we can.
So I’ll travel down this bumpy road called faith.
And with blind eyes, I still try
To embrace all that I can’t understand,
Like Your kind plan. It’s a merciful plan.
And I’m not angered. I am anchored.
Yet I feel weightless; I am hateless.
‘Cause You took me to Your cross, and You cried each of my tears.
You hid me in Your tomb. You crucified my fears.
I’ll praise You with my pain, though this mystery remains.
You are a God who cries; You are a Savior who died.
We will trust You with why.
I’ll ask You, “Why? Why this grace?
Oh why, why such peace?
Father, why, why such love?”
I’ll praise You with my pain, though the mystery remains
That You are a God who cries; You are our Savior who died.
And we will thank You; we will trust You;
we will praise You with why.
Thank You, Lord. God, I love You.
(Sounds of applause)
Leslie: The message you just heard was presented at Revive Our Hearts’ True Woman ’10 conference in Chattanooga. You can hear any of the messages delivered there and more by visiting www.truewoman.com. There you’ll find even more ways to connect from books and resources for yourself, your friends, or your life group to on-demand multi-media to ongoing conversations you can be a part of.
True Woman ‘10 is a ministry of Revive Our Hearts, helping you become God’s true woman.