Grace and Grit: Approaching the New Year with Jennifer Rothschild
- Deborah J. Thompson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2010 21 Dec
Recently, Jennifer shared her message of hope with me and how she learned to navigate through an often dark and uncertain world with the help of God's ever-present guidance. Check out the interview below.
Deborah Thompson: Jennifer, as we face the prospect of another New Year which brings with it the hope and joy of new opportunities -- but all too often also the fear of new challenges -- you are uniquely suited to share with us some of the ways in which God has taught you to embrace life with all of its circumstances... learning of your impending blindness at such an early age was a pivotal challenge for you and one that set you on a new course for your life.
How were you able to move from that young girl with a devastating diagnosis that robbed her of her dreams to the inspiring woman you have become?
Jennifer Rothschild: Well Deborah, in summary, I would have to say "grace and grit." Anything I have accomplished is really just a reflection of God's grace and Him working in, through, and even in spite of me! I really believe that when we are believers in Christ and His life is in us, He becomes the hope and the glory that anchors us. When we tap into that hope and glory that is within us because of His indwelling Spirit, then we can agree with His Spirit and we can walk with tenacity and an unwillingness to quit. I don't believe that I would have any grit without the grace of God first empowering me. I don't take credit for it -- I believe that I have received, not achieved.
DT: When something troubling or tragic comes into our life, it is hard to immediately have a sense of peace and acceptance about it. There is generally a process by which we come to a deeper understanding of God and how to trust and walk more closely with Him. Would you share a bit about your own walk and the process by which you came to understand the necessity of both grace and grit?
JR: Riding home from the hospital that day after the diagnosis at age 15 there is no way that I could have answered this question the same way. I could not have known then that I would deal with this news through the gifts of both grit and grace. It is only through the seasons of life, the opportunities I have had to walk out my faith, to test out what I thought I believed and see that God's grace really is sufficient that I have been able to affirm that which I thought and believed really is true.
And when I look back over my life, I see a constant recurring theme of learning to master my emotions and utilize them to arrive at God's truth. There are so many feelings that come with loss such as grief, sadness, frustration, confusion, etc. I believe it is important to pay attention to those feelings and respond to them. Jesus responded to his emotions — He wept.
But if I let my emotions govern me then there is no way I would have tenacity. What I have learned to do over the years is to trust God more than I trust my feelings. When I feel a sense of isolation (blindness can do that), I feel the sadness and I take it to the heart of Jesus who knows how I feel. When I take that voice of ultimate isolation to the cross, I am able to see it clearly as a place of divine unfairness that allows me to still walk on this side of eternity by faith.
I have also learned to ask God to help me rather than ignore my feelings -- to use them as an "Intuitive Detective" leading me to His truth, which I then trust more than the feelings themselves.
DT: The late Luther Carden, a former pastor in my hometown, often said, "Emotions make great servants, but lousy masters." It sounds like the process for you was similar — learning to understand and ultimately master your emotions so that you can use them to get to the foot of the cross where God's truth is found.
DT: Jennifer, as we approach the New Year, how will you approach the new opportunities and new challenges it may bring to your life?
JR: The combination of being both an introspective person and a "Type A" personality can keep me on over-drive, trying to constantly improve. So one of the things I want to do this year is to learn how to really rest. And it occurred to me that the two words rest and resist share the same letters with the exception that the word resist has a big letter I right in the middle of it. I have learned that when I am striving and working and trying to impress God, then really I am just being in the center of my own world and in many ways I am resisting the grace that God wants to have fully blossom within me. But when I choose to decrease resist by removing the "I", then I find I really begin to experience the rest that God intends. I cease striving and can truly "be still" and know that He is God. I don't have to be Him, because He is!
And I believe that no matter what we are dealing with — emotionally, financially, relationship-wise, in our work or family — whatever the disappointment, whatever the confusion — instead of feeling, "It's not fair to me", "I wish this hadn't happened," and becoming the center of our own worlds, resisting what God may be trying to do within that difficult circumstance — we can learn to rest and in doing so I believe receive some blessings from those really difficult things in our lives.
DT: Attending one of your Fresh Grounded Faith conferences, I was particularly touched by your story about going bungee jumping. For a blind person to be courageous enough to bungee jump says a lot about taking a "leap of faith" and illustrates that you are open to new experiences. Would you share that story?
JR: My husband I had only been married a few years and were in Pigeon Forge, TN when he spotted a bungee tower. Assuming I would not take his challenge, he said, "You would never do that." Well, of course I disagreed and a conversation ensued which ended with me strapped into a harness tied to a bungee cord, 7 ½ stories "above my common sense!" I remember standing on that platform thinking, "What have I done?"
It was the most exhilarating and terrifying feeling all at once. The falling was euphoric but when I reached the end of the bungee cord and it started to jerk me back up, defying the law of gravity — that didn't feel right!
Once was enough, but the experience was in many ways a lot like faith. It seems counterintuitive; we are giving our control away and yet it is liberating to realize that we are not in control. We are not sovereign. And if we are willing to really take the leap, jump, trust God and fall into the great adventure of faith, then we realize we are tied to Him and connected to Him in a way that keeps us safe and secure even through all the ups and downs. So faith is like bungee jumping, but is a much more intelligent choice!
DT: It is such a tangible example of "stepping out in faith." Are there other examples you would share with us?
JR: Sometimes just stepping out my front door is a stepping out in faith. I have walked in blindness since I was 15, and I truly have experienced all my emotions — I have felt loss; I have felt grief. As I've matured, I have had to re-reconcile with the loss through each season.
But for whatever reason, in the last year I fell into a pit of depression that I didn't think I was ever going to fall into because I had just been so sustained over the years though grace. And I believe that it was also through grace that I fell into this depression. I realized that I had relied more on my own personality and tenacity than I had on God's grace. And feeling desperate -- actually being desperate -- reminds you of the gift that can come in suffering. For it is then that we realize how totally sufficient God's grace really is.
When people feel depressed, they often think it is the end. But I don't believe it is the end — I believe it becomes a place that can be a conduit for a deeper, richer relationship with God. And I believe that when we finally embrace what we can't avoid, that is when we are finally positioned for God to usher in the victory that we are waiting for.
DT: Jennifer, in speaking to those who may be facing set-backs and roadblocks of their own -- how would you advise them in hope to approach this New Year?
JR: I would advise anyone that's looking for hope this New Year to not look alone. When we isolate ourselves, we set ourselves up for hopelessness. If it's a new, exciting challenge -- approach it with someone else. If it's a sorrow that we think is going to break our hearts, then we need to share it with someone else -- so that our joys will be doubled and our sorrows will be reduced and we will walk our life in community with the body of Christ. When you are with someone else, you are not nearly as willing to give up. So find a friend, be honest and walk together.
Known for her substance and a down-to-earth style, Jennifer Rothschild weaves together colorful illustrations, universal principles and music at conferences around the county, helping people to look beyond their circumstances to find the unique "gifts" which often come in unusual packaging. She has shared the stage with such notables as Beth Moore, Lysa Terkeurst, Stormie Omartian and Michael O'Brien and has been featured on Dr. Phil, ABC's Good Morning America, and the Billy Graham Television Special. For information on a conference coming to your region, visit www.freshgroundedfaith.com.
Deborah J. Thompson is a writer, artist and Stephen Minister. Her articles are published by Crosswalk.com and "The Fish" family of Christian radio station websites around the country. She shares "Reflections" on Life and Relationships on her website, www.inspiredreflections.info. And she is working on her first book, Your Life, Your Choice--5 steps to Peace. Join her on Facebook/DailyInspiredReflections and Twitter/InspireReflect.