Interview with Jennifer Sands and Christian Book Previews editor, Debra Murphy.
CBP: Can you share with us your Christian testimony?
Jennifer: I had to start from the beginning, which was my marriage to Jim. We were married for five years, inseparable. We were scuba divers, training to be dive instructors and Jim was an underwater photographer, but we also worked very hard in the real world. I'm a pharmacist and Jim was a computer software engineer. And his office was on the 103 floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center. He had a long commute to work, it was two hours each way. So he was on the road four hours a day, and I always worried about him. So every morning when Jim left for work, I would pray for God to keep to safe. And I prayed on the morning of 9/11 and when Jim didn't come back home, I was so devastated and so angry. Unlike so many other people affected by 9/11, my anger was not directed at the terrorists, and I'm not defending or minimizing what they did, which was incomprehensible, but I didn't pray to Osama ben Laden every morning to please not attack our country. I prayed to God every morning to keep Jim safe, and therefore my anger was completely directed at God. But I can look back now and see all the ways God responded to me and intervened in my life.
I have to tell you the background of my faith. Before 9/11, my spiritual life was very limited. I had no relationship with Jesus whatsoever. I believed in God, I knew that Jesus, I kindof understood that he was sent here to live and that he died for the sins of man and that he rose again. But I didn't consider myself a sinner, so I didn't think I needed Jesus in my life. I never owned a Bible, never opened a Bible, never read a Bible, I just assumed that going to church every Sunday in body, not in spirit, was sufficient to protect me against anything bad happening in this life or the next. Which is explains the reason why I reacted the way I did on 9/11 with all that anger.
CBP: After 9/11, sum up those feelings.
Jennifer: Anger, just mostly anger. At first denial, when I saw what was happening on TV, and thought, "I'm sure Jim's okay, because I prayed to God this morning and he would never let anything bad happen to me, so I'm sure he's fine." Then, of course, once the towers collapsed I knew it was all over and that's when the anger set in. Anger just remained with bitterness, contempt at God for several months until God used people that he sent into my life, many believers, even complete strangers. And just a series of events that helped to just soften my heart and open my mind to him. Some seemingly insignificant things, like getting a little card from a Salvation Army guy that I gave a dollar to, and in that card was a verse from Jeremiah 29:11. I had never seen, I was not familiar with the Bible, I didn't know who Jeremiah was, but reading those words: "For I know the plans I have for you, not plans for evil but plans for good to give you a hope and a future." At that moment, I needed those words, I needed something to hold onto, a promise from him that it was going to be okay. And it's okay.
CBP: So you turned to your faith at that time.
Jennifer: I did. And I think that all of us sometimes when we go through a real crisis in our lives, or come to a fork in the road, and you have to make a decision as to whether you are going to grow closer to him or you're going to turn away. Suffering's purpose is to bring us closer to him, but it is our choice as to whether we are going to allow him to work in our lives through it.
CBP: Did you go to visit your sister's church?
CBP: And it was after you wrote your first book?
Jennifer: It was after my first book, yes, because my publisher had approached me on it. Actually, that's a neat story in itself. As I mentioned earlier, Jim was an underwater photographer and I sent in some of his photos after 9/11 to his favorite magazine hoping they would do a story on him then they did. Then the editor of that magazine contacted me and said I just left the magazine and started my own book publishing company, and I'm looking for an author and I think that you should write your story. So, at first I almost vetoed the idea because I loved to write, but I couldn't imagine writing about that. But I did, and it was extremely cleansing and healing for me.
CBP: What's that first book about?
Jennifer: It's the story of the first year journey after losing Jim. Basically, the struggle with all that anger in the beginning and then by the end of the book it's the acceptance of Christ. So it's that whole first year journey. Extreme spiritual growth that first year.
CBP: So you wrote the book, and then they were asking you to speak.
Jennifer: Exactly. And I had never spoken before an audience before in my entire life, I never had a class in public speaking, so I panicked. I almost, again, missed an opportunity for God to use me. But my sister said, "Why don't you just come to our church?" My sister attends a Baptist church. She said, "Just listen to our pastor, because he speaks all over the country." I said, "All right, I'll come listen to him," with absolutely no intention other than getting a crash course in public speaking. But in that first time in that church the Word of God spoke to my heart and planted itself there. And I've been a member ever since, and continuing on the growth journey.
CBP: So your next book, A Teachable Faith, where does that lead your reader next?
Jennifer: A Teachable Faith is the ongoing journey of my spiritual walk with the Lord. It's basically made up of a series of lessons that God has taught me using everyday life experiences. Although there are some crises involved, I just used each chapter to give my example and support it with Scripture, and my prayer is that the reader will identify with it and apply it to their own lives. There are lessons about trusting God and his Word, and it's because he can see around the corner and we can't. There are lessons about being obedient to his Word, and aligning ourselves with his will. There's a lesson about idolatry, loving the gifts more than the giver, which is something I was guilty of. There are lessons about forgiveness and pride and patience, each one is a different lesson. Again, my prayer is that this will open the eyes and the hearts of those who read it and help them to use it in their own lives.
CBP: You are so fabulous, but you were so hard on yourself admitting your faults and weaknesses and really being transparent. I know it helps people, but what was that all about?
Jennifer: When I read other people's experiences, it really does relay a lot, I relate to it myself so I pray that the readers will relate to theirs. Faults and weaknesses, these are things that we deal with all the time. I think when we examine our lives very carefully, we can see God working in our lives, so these faults become ways to enable us to grow. And he prepares us, equips us, teaches us. There are stories about the beginning of my speaking appearances, the challenges I have overcome, everything possible going wrong, and what God was teaching me through that.
CBP: So we've got tsunamis, we've got hurricane Katrina, we've got 9/11, we've got these huge things that happen and people, do they ask you, "Why would God allow this to happen?"
Jennifer: Sure, I hear that all the time. I spent the first year of my life demanding to know why, and found out that it was more important to ask questions like, "What is God trying to teach us from it?" or "How can we allow him to work in our lives to make something good out of it?" We have to remember that there are certain things that God chooses not to reveal to us, because either our limited human minds could not possibly comprehend the infinite aspects of God, or because some things are just not necessary for us to know right now. And I think we should make a distinction between what we need to know and what we want to know, because I think we try to convince ourselves all the time that we need to know everything. I really need to know how much longer I'm going to endure this illness. The money's tight, I need to know if I'm going to get that job promotion. You don't need to know those things, you just want to know those things. If we completely trust God with every facet of our lives, then we can trust the outcome of every situation.
CBP: In A Teachable Faith, you talk a lot about admitting being a control freak. I cannot believe how many people truly are, whether they admit or not. I really want to highlight on that. What do you say that God says about that?
Jennifer: I had to make a decision, it's about trust, to just control only the things that I can and should and must control in my life, and leave the rest to him. Whenever I find myself doubting him or trying to control things that I really cannot control, like the weather or flights on airlines, remember that it's 1 Cor. 10:13, "God will not allow you to be tempted or tested beyond what you are able, but along with that temptation he will provide a way of escape so you will be able to endure it." Scripture is loaded with lessons to learn about that. Romans 12:21 "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." And evil in my mind used to mean just trouble with things like murder and terrorism, but there's sin of the flesh like worry, despair, anger, resentment, anxiety, all of that. These are control things that we do have control over. We may not have control over the outcome, the outcome is always his, but we have a choice with what we do with those emotions when they enter our minds, and how we can react to them.
CBP: So Christianity isn't a call to come here and always feel good. There are trials in our lives, and you talk about those trials and how they shape our lives.
Jennifer: Suffering has many purposes. God uses it to mold and shape our hearts to make us more like him. He uses it to teach us, he uses to prove his faithfulness to us, he uses it to prove our faithfulness to him, like he did with Job. He uses it to refine us, to purify us. He uses it to glorify him. There are many reasons for suffering, so really there are many answers to the question, "Why?" Really suffering has a purpose, it serves a very important role.
CBP: You have an incredible speaking ministry, and I can see it is very powerful. What feedback do you get from women and families?
Jennifer: It's been so positive. All praise and glory and honor be to him, because if my story gives them hope to get through whatever it is that they're going through, they look at my story and they say, "This tragedy has happened to you, and look at what God has done in your life."
CBP: There is a recent trip to Israel that you talk about in there and I felt that I went to Israel at that time! I was traveling vicariously through you. Share some of those highlights.
Jennifer: It was just an amazing, life-changing experience that absolutely gave me a different perspective and revolutionized my Bible reading, because now I'm able to visualize all those places that I read about. I was able to speak to a church in Nazareth, addressing a group of people who were Christians who were previously Muslim. Just seeing the pain in their eyes, but also the passion and the determination and the spirit that they have for the Lord now. Of course, having come to the Lord and realizing the truth of the gospel, and seeing my story. Being in a country that is always overridden with violence and persecution, they related to me and I related to them as well. Every place I went was really life changing.
CBP: You have an incredible story, I cried. How can readers find out more about you?
Jennifer: They can go directly to my website which is www.jennifersands.com and on there I have a great outreach ministry. I encourage people to email me through my website and share their story. If there is any help or advice I can give them, I try to lead them to Christ, because I was led to Christ by complete strangers. I know that God has planted me in other people's lives to do the same.
CBP: What is next for you?
Jennifer: What is next, we have some media coming up. We have Aspiring Women in Chicago, then the Hour of Power which will air on March 5, 2006. The 700 Club, Moody Bible Radio, so there are some interesting things coming up that you can see on the website.