Joni Earekson Tada’s Story

 

As a teenager, Joni loved life. She enjoyed riding horses, loved to swim. One summer in 1967, however, that all changed. While swimming with some friends, Joni dove into a lake not knowing how shallow it really was. She broke her neck, paralyzing her body from the neck down. For the next two years during her rehabilitation Joni struggled. She struggled with life, she struggled with God, and she struggled with her paralysis. Since then, Joni has written fourteen books, has recorded several musical albums, and she’s actively involved as an advocate for disabled people. On this tape you’ll hear how Joni, now an internationally known mouth artist, learned to accept her disability. And Joni will tell you how a personal relationship with God has helped her overcome the obstacles in her life and how you can experience the love of God, despite pain and suffering. Now with her life story, here’s Mrs. Joni Eareckson Tada:

Thanks for the wonderful introduction. Do I really do all those things? My goodness! But I don’t tap dance. One of these days, yes, but not quite.

It hardly seems 26 years ago, that I was lying on a hospital bed in suicidal despair, depressed, discouraged, after the hot July afternoon when I took that dive into shallow water, a dive which resulted in a severe spinal cord injury, which left me paralyzed from the shoulders down, without use of my hands and my legs. Before that time, I didn’t even know what you called people like me. Who are we? The physically challenged, the mobility impaired, the differently abled, handicapped. I knew we weren’t crippled or invalid. But I just didn’t have any contact with people who were hurting or in pain. That spinal cord injury changed all that. There I was lying in the hospital bed in the summer of 1967 desperately trying to make ends meet, desperately trying to turn my right side down emotions, right side up. In my pain and despair, I had begged many of my friends to assist me in suicide. That seems to be a common topic these days and many disabled people that I know even in the nineties have a tough time finding life worth living. I sought to find a final escape, a final solution, through assisted suicide, begging my friends to slit my wrists, dump pills down my throat, anything to end my misery. The source of my depression is understandable. I could not face the prospect of sitting down for the rest of my life without use of my hands, without use of my legs. All my hopes seem dashed. My faith was shipwrecked.

I was sick and tired of pious platitudes that well meaning friends often gave me at my bedside. Patting me on the head, trivializing my plight, with the 16 good biblical reasons as to why all this has happened. I was tired of advice and didn’t want anymore counsel. I was numb emotionally, desperately alone, and so very, very frightened. Most of the questions I asked, in the early days of my paralysis, were questions voiced out of a clenched fist, an emotional release, an outburst of anger. I don’t know how sincere my questions really were. I was just angry. But after many months those clench fists questions became questions of a searching heart. I sincerely and honestly wanted to find answers.

Now I knew, in a vague sort of way, that answers for my questions about my paralysis were probably hidden somewhere between the pages of the Bible, but I had no idea where. I needed a friend who would help me sort through my emotions, who would help bring me out of the social isolation, who would help me deal with the anger. A friend who would point me somewhere, anywhere, in God’s Word to help me find answers. I found a friend, a young man named Steve, who knew absolutely nothing about emptying leg bags or pushing wheel chairs and he had no idea what to call people like me, whether we were physically challenged, differently abled, mobility impaired. Don’t you get tired of all those fancy, schmancy euphonisms?

I remember my friend Steve, just a young teenager, who had a caring, compassionate heart, a love for God, and a halfway decent working knowledge of the Bible. At my bedside, I cornered him one day, and I said to Steve, “I just don’t get it! I trusted God before my accident. I wasn’t a bad person. This possibly couldn’t be a punishment for any sin that I’ve done. At least, I hope not. I don’t get it, Steve? If God is supposed to be all loving and all powerful, then how, what has happened to me, be a demonstration of His love and power? Because, Steve, if He’s all powerful, then surely He should have been powerful enough to stop my accident from happening? If He’s all loving then how in the world can permanent and lifelong paralysis be a part of His loving plan for my life? I just don’t get it! Unless I find some answers, I don’t see how this all loving and all powerful God is worthy of my trust and confidence. Who is in control? Who’s will is this anyway?” I said to him.

My friend Steve took a deep sigh and he was wise enough to discern that my question, again, was not voiced out of clench fist, but out of a searching heart. He knew I sincerely wanted to find an answer. And so he said, “Joni, those are tough questions and theologians have been trying to answer them for hundred of years. I can’t pretend to sit at your bedside and know why and how. I can’t pretend to explain the loving nature of God and how your accident is a demonstration of His power. But when it comes to the question about who is control, and who’s will is this anyway, I think I can show you some answers.” Huh, well! I wanted to see this! So I waited to see what he would say. I thought he might quote to me the sixteen good biblical reasons as to why all this has happened.

I thought surely he might lay out before me the blueprint of my life. I thought for sure he’d give me a lot of advice, a lot of his counsel, but no, Steve didn’t do that. Then he opened up his Bible and he pointed me to the example of Jesus Christ. He told me that in the life of Christ I could find the answers about God’s will. But he went even more specifically, he showed me Christ on the cross and he challenged me with a couple of hard hitting questions himself. Saying, “Joni who’s will do you think the cross was?” Well, I obediently remembered all those good Sunday school lessons I had learned growing up and I easily voiced in response, “God’s will, of course, it’s God’s will. Everybody knows that. But then Steve said, “Joni, think it through, because you better believe that it was the devil who entered the heart of Judas Iscariot who handed over Jesus for a mere 30 pieces of silver. And you got to know that it was Satan who instigated that mob on the streets to clamor for Christ’s crucifixion, and for sure, Joni, it had to be the devil who prodded those Roman soldiers to spit on Jesus and slap Him and mock Him. Even the devil inspired Pontius Pilate to hand down mock justice in order to gain political popularity. How can any of these things be God’s will? Treason, injustice, murder, torture?”

Well, I nodded and agreed. None of it seemed to be God’s will. But what about all those Sunday school lessons I had learned as a little girl? That the cross was God’s plan and purpose for all of mankind? My friend Steve turned to a verse in the Bible which helped answer that question about God’s will. He turned to Acts chapter 4:28 and it says there that these men, that is Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot, the mob in the streets, the cruel Roman soldiers, these men did what God’s power and will had decided before hand should happen. In other words, the cross was no mistake.

Somehow, some way, God was in control. Heaven and Hell participated in the exact same event when Christ died on that cross. Heaven and Hell participated in the exact same event but for different reasons. Now, no doubt, Satan had his reasons. The devil wanted to put an end to this ridiculous talk about redemption. Stop God’s son dead in his tracks. No more talk about reconciliation, no more talk about atonement. Kill Christ. That was Satan’s motive. But you see, the wonderful thing about God is that He’s a miracle worker and God is in the business of reaching down and, with otherwise seems to be awful horrid evil, He wrenches out of it positive good for us and glory for Himself. God can do that because He’s God.

God always aborts devilish schemes to accomplish His own ends and His own purposes. That’s what he did at the Cross. The world’s worst murder became the world’s only salvation. In Satan’s most daring attempt to frustrate the plan of God, he ended up slitting his own throat because God aborted those devilish schemes at the Cross. What was God’s motive in the Crucifixion? What was His purpose and will? That through the cross, the floodgates of heaven would be open wide. That whosoever will, might come in. Heaven and Hell participated in the exact same event but for different reasons.

Steve closed his Bible at my bedside and didn’t say much after that. He let the message sink in. It didn’t take long for me to understand the parallel between what happened at the cross of Christ and my own disability. I began to see that in the accident in which I became paralyzed, Heaven and Hell were participating in the exact same event, but for different reasons. When I took that reckless dive into shallow water that caused me to be a quadriplegic, no doubt , the devil absolutely wrung his hands in delight, thinking to himself, “Aha, I have now shipwrecked this girl’s faith. I have dashed her hopes. I have ruined her family. I have destroyed her dreams and I am going to make a mockery of all her beliefs in God. That, I’m certain, was the devil’s motive. Remember we have an all wise, all powerful, all loving God who reaches down, and when otherwise would be horrible evil, and wrenches out of it positive good for us and glory for Himself. I am convinced that God’s motive, God’s purpose, His plan in the accident in which I became paralyzed, His purpose was to turn a head strong stubborn rebellious kid into a young woman who would reflect something of patience, something of endurance, something of longsuffering. Who would get her life values turned from wrong side down to right side up and would have a buoyant and lively optimistic hope of heavenly glories above.

I wouldn’t dare list 16 good biblical reasons as to why this accident happened to me. No I wouldn’t dare do that because suffering is still a mystery.. I can’t explain it all and my friend Steve couldn’t explain it all by my bedside either. It’s a mystery but not a mystery without direction. We know for one thing in this mystery ,nobody is glorifying suffering. God does not think this that a spinal cord injury is a great idea. There is no inherent goodness in cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, brain injury, stroke, heart disease, manic depression, No, No, No!. There is no inherent goodness in disease or disability, but like I said, God can reach down to an otherwise would seem like a terrible difficulty and wrench out of it positive good for us and glory for Himself. There is no inherent goodness in disability, disease, or deformity but we are promised in the book of Romans the 8th chapter the 28th verse that all things can fit together into a pattern, a plan for good, our good and His Glory.

I remember when my friend Steve shared that verse with me as well, and I challenged him saying,”That sounds to me that you’re saying, there, that all things are good.” He said, “No, Joni, that’s not what the verse says. It doesn’t say that all things are good. It just says that all things can fit together into a pattern for good, a plan for good.

What is that good? I can’t speak for you. I really can’t, and I would never take my experience and lay it like a template over your life and say this is the way God ought to work in your life. No, No, no, it doesn’t work that way. We’re all individuals, we’re all significant, we’re all unique, and God’s plan for each one of us is so personal, so highly personal.

I would like to share with you the good, that I believe, has come out of my disability. I would like to tell you God’s motive in having permitted my accident to happen. For one thing, my life values have gotten turned from wrong side down to right side up.There was a time when I used to think that man’s cheap end for happiness was to have a date on Friday night and to be a slim trim 135 lbs, a size 12 dress, a college degree, a nice little home in suburbia with a white picket fence with Ethan Allen furniture, and 2.5 children. That’s what I used to think was important in life. After my accident, those life values, that were so wrong side down, got turned right side up and I began to see that what really mattered in life were friendships. What really mattered in life was love, warm and deep and real and personal, between a husband and a wife, or a sister, or a brother, or a aunt, or a niece, or a nephew, or a neighbor, or a nurse, or an attendant. I began to see that it was people who counted. And smiles and tears and embraces, these things began to count so much in my life.

I remember that my hospital bed was situated near a window in the ward that I shared with 6 other women and I used to thank God that I could see the moon at night and that my room was situated near a tree so I could watch the leaves blow in the wind. Little things, small things, began to matter. Looking straight on into the eyes of another person in a wheelchair and sensing their pain, being moved by their tears, feeling the rhythm of their heart, sharing oneness in the spirit, like experiences. These are the things that began to matter to me.

But other things began to matter to me as well. God used this injury to develop in me patience and endurance and tolerance and self-control and steadfastness and sensitivity and love and joy. Those things didn’t matter much when I was on my feet but, boy, they began to matter after I began living life in a wheelchair. I began to see that this is what made me a truly peaceful person. This is what real beauty was all about. This is what purpose in life involved. Being made somebody special, somebody significant, way down deep on the inside and beginning to share that with smiles and encouragement to others.

Also, I began to get a buoyant, lively hope of heavenly glories above. In other words this wheelchair help me see that the good things in this life aren’t the best things. There are better things yet to come. The good things in this life are only omens and foreshadowing of more glorious, grand, great things to burst on the scene when we walk into the other side of eternity. For one thing, the Bible assures us that we’re going to have new bodies. First Corinthians, chapter 15, read it sometime for some encouragement. We learn there that one day we will have new hands, new legs that will walk, new hearts, new minds.

I can’t wait for the day when I’m given my brand new glorified body. I’m going to stand up, stretch, dance, kick, do a aerobics, comb my own hair, blow my own nose, and what is so poignant is that I’ll finally be able to wipe my own tears, but I won’t need to, because the Bible tells us in the book of Revelation that God will personally wipe away every tear. There will be no more need to cry. How ironic that finally on the day when I have my hands so I can blow my own nose and wipe own tears I won’t have to. I look forward to that day. I never used to when I was on my feet. I thought heaven was pie in the sky by and by. I used to think that it was an escape from reality , a psychological crutch, but no, no, no, heaven is the reality and when you have your heart fixed on heaven it helps you live life better down here on earth. You’re able to develop relationships from an even keel. You’re better able to discern how more wisely to use your time, how to invest your talents, your gifts. You begin to see that people are what really count in life. Heavenly glories above, patience, peace, perseverance, life values turned right side up, these are just a few of the things God has shown me in the 26 years I’ve been in this wheelchair.

I can’t pretend to know all the answers, honestly. But I know what has worked for me from God’s Word. I know that God’s Word can come alive and active in your life as well. You see, the choice is yours. Heaven and Hell are participating in the events in your life. You know that without me having to tell you. You know that because of the loneliness you feel, the pain, the hurt, the heartache, the tears, the pressure, the discouragement, the Monday morning blues. I don’t have to remind you that sometimes Heaven and Hell are participating in the exact same events in your life but what happens, and who gets the glory and who’s motive is brought to fulfillment in your life, is entirely your choice. The grace is God’s but the choice is yours but, oh, what wonderful things happen, when you trust in God and make a choice to go for His plan, to believe in His purpose, to hold on to His motives for your life.

I want to hearken back to the cross just for a moment. Remember I talked about that earlier on. It’s odd to me that Christians wear crosses around their neck. I don’t know if it’s curious to you, but it sure seems odd to me. I mean a cross is an instrument of torture. It’s like wearing a little execution machine around your neck. Wearing a cross is like wearing a little guillotine of gold and pearls or a little electric chair of silver or a little hangman’s noose made out of gold. What makes the cross different from other execution machines? The fact that Jesus exchanged it’s meaning. Once was formally a symbol of death and destruction and pain, has become a symbol of hope and victory, and that is why we wear crosses around our neck. Crosses symbolize hope and victory and it was the choice that Christ made at the cross to go all the way to secure our salvation.

That’s what’s given it new meaning, new hope, new victory. The same is true in your life as well. This wheelchair to me use to symbolize alienation and confinement, but God has exchanged its meaning because I trusted in Him. Now this wheelchair to me is a symbol of independence and freedom and mobility. It’s a choice I made and it’s a choice you can make too. You won’t be able to make it over night some of you. It will be a long hard haul for a few a you. There will be dark days when you will ask questions, not out of a searching heart but you’ll voice them out of a clenched fist, but that’s ok. God is big enough to handle our biggest doubts and He’s not held hostage by our handicaps. Oh, no, He cares and He welcomes all the doubts, the fears, the questions, and the frustrations. The grace is His, the choice is yours. Would you let Him reach down into an otherwise, seems to be awful pain in your life and wrench out of it positive good for yourself and glory for Him.

You’ve heard me talk about heaven thus far and I want to share with you a song that means a lot to me and a poem that I wrote that expresses my joy and my enthusiasm about working and waiting on heavenly glories above. Poem: Our risen heart sent free will be pure passion poured purely Adore He who will give us this heart free to love for the first time again Our risen bodies, light, bright, clothed in righteousness lest with glowing flesh that feels, really feels, for the first time again. But now we wait, wait, wait for our risen Lord who will reward we who weep yet still seek Him above all. So stand we tall together for the first time ever and then fall, please, on grateful knees, eternity is ours Song: For though I spend my mortal lifetime in this chair, I refuse to waste it living in despair.

And though others may receive gifts of healing, I believe that He has given me a gift beyond compare. For heaven is nearer to me and at times it is all I can see. Sweet music I hear coming down to my ear and I know that it’s playing for me. For I am Christ the Savior’s own bride and redeemed I shall stand by His side. He will say shall we dance and our endless romance will be worth all the tears I have cried. I rejoice with him who’s pain my Savior heals and I weep with him who still his anguish feels. But earthly joys and earthly tears are confined to earthly years and greater good the Word of God reveals. In this life we have a cross that we must bare. It’s just a tiny part of Jesus death that we can share. And one day we’ll lay it down cause He’s promised us a crown to which our suffering can never be compared. That’s why heaven is nearer to me and times it is all I can see. Sweet music I hear coming down to my ear and I know that it’s playing for me. For I am Christ the Savior’s own bride and redeemed I shall stand by His side. He will say shall we dance and our endless romance will be worth all the tears I have cried.

And it’s worth all the tears that you’ve cried too.

Thank you for listening to my life story. You may have heard me mentioned a special verse from God’s Word. Romans 8:28, where it says that all things fit together into a pattern of good to them who love God and are called according to His purpose. It’s a wonderful promise isn’t it? It is a special promise, a conditional promise, in fact, and it’s for those who love God. All things fit together into a pattern for good, but only to those who love God. I suppose the question I put to you now is, what is your relationship with God? Do you know the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior? If you do, then you can be guaranteed for certain that all things can be used of God to fit into some marvelous plan, some pattern for good in your life.

Now I know you’d like to see that happen and I know that you’d like to have the assurance that one day you will find that home in heaven where it says according to Isaiah 35, “The eyes of the blind will one day be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the tongue of those who can’t speak will one day shout for joy, and the lame shall leap like dear.” That’s going to happen one day in heaven and if you want to be certain that you’ll be there then you’ll need to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. That will insure your relationship with God the Father. All it takes is a simple prayer and prayer of repentance, a decision to turn away from bitterness and resentment and to grab hold of all the hope and help that God offers. So if you would like to embark on a new adventure and journey with God that assures that all things will fit together into a pattern for good then will you please pray this prayer with me.

Father, thank you so much for the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross for me. I confess my rebellion, pride, stubbornness. I lay it all at the foot of the cross. Father, I thank you that Jesus has paid the penalty. You have no more anger left for me, only love and mercy. I receive that love and mercy now as I confess my sin. Thank you that Jesus is my Savior and I bless you for the difference He will make in my life. Help me to follow you in the power of His Spirit. In Jesus name, Amen.

I hope you prayed that prayer with me and I’d like to take a couple of more minutes to share with you how now you can continue on in your spiritual journey because for one thing, welcome to the family. You are a believer. You are now my sister, my brother in the Lord Jesus. If you prayed that prayer with me, I’d like to encourage you to begin reading God’s Word. Begin it daily. Start with the Gospel of John, something simple. Second, I suggest that you find a Bible teaching church nearby and a attend there on a regular basis. Third, pray, would you? Start praying and be open and honest with God. He knows what you’re going through. He knows the struggle that you’re dealing with regarding your disability. Finally, take the initiative and tell others about your decision to follow Christ. Number one, get into God’s Word, number two, get involved in a church, third, be open & honest with God and start praying, and number four, start talking to others about Jesus.

I face a lot of limitations what with living in a wheelchair for over 26 years, but I have found limitless joy and peace in knowing the Lord Jesus. Knowing that I’m heading for heaven. My first priority is always my relationship with him. The things I talked about today are important. I want you to know I really care for you and your spiritual walk. God bless you on your spiritual journey.



 

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