by Jennifer Rothschild
I began my sophomore year of high school experiencing all the usual teenage changes.
But there had also been one very unusual one.
Near the end of junior high, I began to realize that my eyesight was deteriorating.
As I picked my way carefully through the packed hallways of Glades Junior High, I was amazed at how my classmates streamed through the crowd with such ease—even in dark stairwells. How could they do that without bumping into schoolmates or lockers? When we played softball in P.E., I couldn’t understand how my teammates could catch the ball so easily. I would stand out in right field, glove in hand, and stare intently at the ground, trying to see the shadow of the approaching ball. Then I’d listen to where it landed and hope I could find it.
Difficult as it was to admit…I began to realize that it wasn’t normal for me not to be able to see a softball in the air or the stairs in a stairwell. As a result, I began to feel more awkward and self-conscious. At last I became so concerned that I told my mother, who (as you might imagine) immediately took me to an ophthalmologist.
The eye doctor tried to remedy my failing sight with prescriptions for stronger glasses, but they didn’t help. Eventually, he referred me to an eye hospital. After several days of testing, the doctors met with my folks and me. They told us that I had retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease that slowly eats away the retina of the eye.
There was no cure and no way to correct damage already done.
The doctors said I had lost so much vision that, at fifteen, I was already legally blind. And they told us that my retinas would continue to deteriorate until I was totally blind.
The words sounded so final. So certain. So cold. I felt a chill inside that I’d never felt before.
Nothing else was said. Silence fell upon us like shadows fall just before night, and it shrouded us as we left the hospital, walked across the parking lot, got in the car, and journeyed home.
I have often thought that it was probably much harder for my parents that day than it was for me. Yes, my eyes were being robbed of sight, but their hearts were being crushed. Can you imagine their heartache? Can you hear the sound of that door slamming in their souls? Surely one of life’s greatest sorrows must be to watch your child suffer…and to feel helpless to prevent it.
My dad gripped the steering wheel tightly as he piloted us home through the spidery Miami streets. I could only imagine the prayers he must have been praying. He had always been my source of wisdom, my counselor, my comforter, my rescuer, and the one man I trusted completely. I wonder if he was thinking, Dear Lord, how can I fix this?
Yet on the ride home he was silent.
My mother sat next to him in the front seat. I could feel her broken heart. A mother’s heart is so tender. I wonder what her prayers were like on that day. My mom was my standard, my cheerleader, my encourager, my mentor, and my friend. I think she must have been wondering, Will she be safe?
Yet on the ride home, she too, was silent.
I had always been strong-willed, trusting, sensitive, and talkative. Yet, sitting in the backseat, I also kept silent. I remember the reasons for my silence as if it were yesterday. My heart was swelling with emotion, and my mind was racing with questions and thoughts. How will I finish high school? Will I ever go away to college? How will I know what I look like? Will I ever get a date or a boyfriend? Will I ever get married? I remember feeling my fingertips and wondering how in the world people read Braille.
And then it hit me.
I would never be able to drive a car.
Like most teenagers, I thought that having wheels was just like having wings. I couldn’t wait to drive! That was a step toward independence to which nothing else compared. But now it was a rite of passage I would never experience, and I was crushed.
After forty-five long minutes, we arrived home. Once inside, I went immediately to the living room and sat down at our piano. It was old and stately and had a warm, comforting sound. For me it was a place of refuge.
By then I had played the piano for several years. In fact, I’d had almost five years of lessons. The funny thing about my lessons, though, was that I’d managed to stretch them out over an eight-year period. I was one of those kids who would beg my mother to let me take piano lessons—and then after about six months beg her to let me quit! Three or four months later we’d start the whole routine over again.
I barely muddled through my lessons, and I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant for the listener to hear me practice. Let’s just say that I was a little short on natural talent! I did, however, practice diligently every night after dinner. That’s because if I did, I was excused from clearing the table and washing the dishes.
But this time was different.
I wasn’t seeking refuge from chores, and I didn’t play the few songs I’d memorized. Instead, I began to play by ear, and the melody that filled the living room that afternoon belonged to a song I’d never played before. My fingers followed a pattern along the keyboard that was new to me, yet…somehow familiar.
The song I played was “It Is Well with My Soul.”
I think God guided my heart and hands to play that hymn. Some people have told me it was a miracle that I could sit down at the piano that day and begin to play by ear for the first time. Perhaps it was. Who knows? But to me, there was a bigger miracle that dark day.
The miracle was not that I played “It Is Well with My Soul,” but that it actually was well with my soul.
Now, more than twenty years later, I look back and wonder at all that has happened. I still can’t see, of course, and I know well the hardships that blindness brings. Yet I have been blessed with a wonderful husband and two sons, as well as a meaningful speaking ministry. God has been good to me.
On that day so long ago—in the hospital, on the ride home, and at the piano—even as I mourned my loss, I looked into the heart of my Teacher. I knew His Word and His character, and they were what allowed me to say then—and still say today—“Whatever my lot…it is well with my soul.”
There are times when we as parents are not able to shield the children we love from troubles, disappointment, and heartache. Rejection by friends, failure, injuries, and illness are, for the most part, matters over which we have little control. When these trials occur, we end up feeling as helpless as Jennifer Rothschild’s parents on the day they learned that their daughter was going blind.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus warned us that life on earth would not be easy: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Yet we know that one reason the Lord allows trials in our lives is to create opportunities to draw near to Him. He understands how easy it is for us to fall away from daily prayer, worship, and study of His Word when times are good. It is why the apostle Peter said, “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12–13).
It can be terribly difficult to rejoice in the midst of hardship or crisis, especially when our own children are involved. Yet these are the times, more than ever, that your family needs to know that God remains in control and is still the source of all love, comfort, and strength. We’ll talk more about this important truth in the days ahead: Even when it is not well with our circumstances, it can be well with our souls.
- James C Dobson
“It Is Well with My Soul” by Jennifer Rothschild. From Lessons I Learned in the Dark (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2002). Used by permission.