Lean on Me

For Jennifer and Phil Rothschild, one spouse's disability brings surprising blessings.

"How do I look?" Jennifer Rothschild holds out her arms, patiently awaiting inspection.

Setting aside the newspaper, her husband, Phil, carefully examines her from head to toe, smoothing a stray lock of hair and dabbing at a misplaced fleck of mascara before declaring, "Beautiful."

Of course that's what every wife wants to hear. But for Jennifer her husband's response isn't so much about making her feel good; it's about making sure she really does look okay—something she can't determine for herself, since she's blind.

At age 15 Jennifer was diagnosed with a rare disease, retinitis pigmentosa, that caused the deterioration of her retinas. With only a limited ability to sense light from dark, Jennifer is now blind. So Phil has become her mirror. He applies Jennifer's nail polish, picks out her clothing, and checks her hair and make-up each morning.

"Thankfully he's not color blind!" Jennifer jokes. But then she admits, "He's saved me from some embarrassing situations. Like the time I nearly went out of the house with lip liner on my eyes and eye liner on my lips!"

Ignorance is bliss—at first

Philip and Jennifer met in the early 1980s at Palm Beach Atlantic College in Florida, where Jennifer was studying psychology and Phil, who was a year ahead of her, was studying business management. Jennifer was immediately attracted to Phil's charismatic personality—though he insists it was actually his hair.

"I had a big, bushy Afro, and Jennifer had long black hair," Phil says with a grin. "We were Sonny and Cher!"

For his part, Phil recalls being impressed by Jennifer's spirit. "I'd see her walking through the cafeteria with a friend, and I knew her eyesight was terrible and getting worse by the day. She was beautiful, but also spunky, witty, and smart. I just knew we'd complement each other, and I wanted to take care of her." 

They dated off and on over the next few years. Then in the spring of Jennifer's senior year, Phil proposed.

Though they knew their marriage would face difficulties created by Jennifer's eventual blindness, Phil had no doubts—and so neither did Jennifer. "It was never a concern for me," he says. "Jennifer was smart and talented,

and I knew she had so much to offer. Losing her eyesight was something we'd make the most of and rise above. And although it's been difficult at times, together we've been able to do that with God's grace."

"Phil's an eternal optimist," Jennifer says, smiling. "The word problem doesn't exist. In his dictionary, it's called opportunity. When he chooses to be committed, he's totally committed. And he's resourceful. I was confident he'd do whatever it took to make our marriage work."

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Challenges; Disease; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2008
Posted September 12, 2008

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