best we can hope for in this life is a knothole peek at the shining realities
ahead. Yet a glimpse is enough. It's enough to convince our hearts that whatever
sufferings and sorrows currently assail us aren't worthy of comparison to that
which waits over the horizon." -Joni Eareckson Tada |
was 1979 and I was an impressionable eleven-year-old. The movie, Joni, tugged
at my heart and I quickly read her book by the glow of my flashlight, unable to
put it down. Over and over I flipped through the photos in the mid-section of
the book and wondered who this young girl was. Where did she find the courage
to rely completely on God during the worst of tragedies?
was a diving accident as a teenager in 1967 that changed the life of Joni Eareckson.
Being a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, unable to use her hands, however, didn't
slow her down. She now has many titles: wife, author, speaker, artist, disability
advocate, singer, radio host, and world traveler to name a few. But to many, she
is the face of joy, an answered prayer. She provides hugs at Joni and Friends
Family Retreats, and wheelchairs and worship all over the world. She seems to
always have either a joke or a word of encouragement to someone who is hurting-depending
on what they most most need at the moment.
I began a chronic illness outreach ministry, Joni Eareckson Tada and the path
God chose for her was my inspiration. I met her after hearing her speak, as many
of you have. And then I saw her again when we were speaking at a conference. She
breezed by in her wheelchair and said, "Hi, Lisa! Come join me for lunch.
I'll be over there." I stood there stunned, and my sister, standing nearby,
read my mind. "She knew your name!" Michelle said, "Wow!"
But I am not anyone special. Joni has a sense of grace and peace about her that
draws many of us to her and she treats everyone as a special child of God. The
way she glows, I've wonder if she has a special generator under that seat of hers,
but it also obvious it's just the Holy Spirit slipping through her skin.
you recognize Joni's name or not, pay close attention to her message. She is our
voice in the wilderness of suffering through physical ailments. With a presidential
appointment to the National Council on Disability, "Churchwoman of the Year"
in 1993, to Larry King Live this summer, when she talks, people really do listen-pastors
and policy-makers alike.
Joni, I was so sorry to hear that you've recently broken your leg! What happened?
JAT: I have fallen out of my wheelchair other times, but this was
the first time it resulted in broken bones. It happened on a crowded
L.A. freeway when we were forced to suddenly stop. I tumbled to
the floor, despite the fact that my chair was tied down and I was
wearing a chest restraint. Thankfully, it was only a broken tibia
and fibula; not a fractured hip!
can't imagine. . . What do you do when you're feeling "trapped," such
as bed-bound for a pressure wound, when praying or reading the Bible feels like
it's not making a difference? You've
been an amazing advocate for the disabled community, but we have so far yet to
go. What things could a chronically ill person do to help their church become
more aware of chronic conditions and disabilities?
I can't tell you how many times I've turned
my head on my pillow, bit my lip, fought back tears and "talked to my soul."
I'll whisper Psalm 42:5-6 where it says, "Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my
Savior and my God." It just helps to rehearse things I know to be true, things
I sometimes forget when I feel claustrophobic from lying in bed too long, or having
to deal with pain. The other day I was fighting off discouragement from a "too
tight corset" and comforted myself by singing, "Jesus, I am resting,
resting in the joy of what Thou art; I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving
heart." I don't pretend to be a really great singer; but embedding a melody
in my heart and rehearsing it during the day gives balance to my emotions, sharpens
my perspective, and keeps me focused on Jesus Christ.
The challenge in living
with any disability-whether visible or invisible-is following the mandate of Phil.
2:4 where it says, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others." It's hard to think of others when your
own pain is screaming for your undivided attention. But ironically, the best remedy
is to, yes, address your own physical needs, but then, look for a way to minister
to others needier, and more helpless than you. Joni and Friends has resources
to help. It may involve starting a "support group" in your church in
which edification spreads through prayer, godly counsel, and meeting practical
needs. The rest of the church can then see how God's power shows up through weakness;
they will see I Cor. 12:22 in action, acknowledging that the weaker members really
kinds of things can a church do to send a message to ill people, "we care,
and we're here for you"?
I like to envision a person running His
hands over cracks in a cement walk to see where it needs to be filled in. In other
words, people can look to see where the "cracks" are in the lives of
families affected by disabilities, all for the purpose of filling in the spaces,
helping with the needs, and providing practical support. Just today I received
an email from a woman at church (who suffers from bi-polar disorder), asking if
she could help me by preparing in advance a casserole dish for me while Ken is
away fishing. I like that! She's being pro-active-she's not waiting for me to
ask for help-she's looking for ways to assist with real needs. Best of all, she's
doing it out of her own need, her own weakness. God will bless her for that!
Things You |
Didn't Know About Joni
favorite silly past time: Watching Trading Spaces, or if I want it to be really
silly, The Iron Chef.
Bible I use: NIV Giant Print
favorite devotional book: By far and away, Valley of Vision: A collection
of Puritan Prayers & Devotions published by Banner of Truth, for anyone
I am currently reading: Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose; The
Shifting Tide by Anne Perry.
vacation spot: The back porch of my mother's condo in Ocean City, Maryland.
favorite flavor of ice cream: Sorry, it clogs my catheter. If it didn't cause
stones, I would vote for Hagen-Das Chocolate Chip.
frustration about shopping: Somebody has already taken all the size 12's.
I could get out of the chair for one day I would: Give Ken a back rub, then
get him out on the Tennis Court.
made a difference in my life by: Strapping skis to my wheelchair wheels and
taking me 'sledding' down the snowy hill outside our house.
encouraged me without even realizing it: After my friend got me up in the
morning, and after I left for work, she cut flowers from my backyard and placed
fresh blooms in my bathroom.
I could choose the headline for the front page of the major newspapers tomorrow
it would be: Millions claim Conversion in Nationwide 'Revival!'"