Joni: After 50 Years of Quadriplegia, God’s Grace is Still Enough

By Vaneetha on Jul 20, 2017 04:28 pm

Once again Vaneetha is allowing us a glimpse of someone else’s pain, someone who still has the ability to enjoy her maker. I needed this and hope you will as well.

Many of you may have been acquainted with Joni Tada for many years now.

Joni and Ama

Can you imagine living with 50 years of quadriplegia? Relying on others for your every need, unable to care for yourself, needing help even to blow your nose?

Joni Eareckson Tada can. On July 30, 1967, when she was 17 years old, Joni was paralyzed from the neck down when she dove into deceptively shallow water in the Chesapeake Bay. This month marks 50 years that Joni has lived as a quadriplegic. From an outside perspective, it seems impossible to endure what Joni has endured and come out praising Jesus. But she has.

In her latest devotional, A Spectacle of Glory, Joni shares, “I happened to hear recently the old Beatles classic “Here Comes the Sun” – a song I listened to when I was first injured. It reminded me of the dark, depressing days in the hospital when I thought I would never smile again, would never see the sunlight of hope. And now, nearly 50 years later, I still find myself thinking, how in the world did I ever make it? But here I am, living in joyful hope as though it were sunshine. How did that happen? Here’s how: day after day, month after month, year after year, I simply cast myself on Jesus. I clung to his name, crying out constantly, “Oh Jesus!”

Joni, who lives in joyful hope as though it were sunshine, has had to endure more than quadriplegia. She was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in 2010. And she lives with crushing chronic pain. To Joni, quadriplegia isn’t a big deal anymore; she’s learned to live with that. But the pain is hard to get used to, as it invades her life every day.

This week I had the privilege of speaking with Ama Cruz, who helps serve Joni. Ama is the mother of Nathan Cruz, who is a summer intern for my husband Joel. What a joy it was to discover that we both knew Joni. When Ama first started serving in the Tada home 1 ½ years ago, she was excited about getting to know Joni personally. But more importantly, she wanted to meet God through the lens of Joni. And she has. She has seen firsthand the faithfulness of God who lavishes grace on us.

Someone from Joni’s wake-up crew, affectionately known as “the Get-up Girls” who are pictured above, is there every morning to get her ready. And they get her ready regardless of whether Joni has slept well or not, whether she’s in agony or not, whether she wants to get up or not. Because she relies on helpers who are scheduled in advance, Joni doesn’t have the luxury of changing her mind at the last minute. Joni can’t hit the snooze alarm and decide she wants a little more sleep.

Often she is exhausted, but she continues to persevere. As she prays in her devotional, “Lord Jesus, sometimes I think my worst enemy is just being so tired – tired of the physical hassles, tired of the pain, tired of fighting off the whispers and mockery of the enemy. My stamina is almost gone and my tank is almost empty. Come quickly to my side. Be the strength and song I can’t pull together on my own.”

In a podcast interview, Joni said As a quadriplegic, I wake up in the morning and it’s hard. It is so hard having somebody else come into your bedroom [to brush your teeth and your hair]. It’s overwhelming at times,” she said. “During those times, I say, ‘Lord God, I cannot do this, but I can do all things through you as you strengthen me.’

Those who serve Joni can attest to the fact that Christ is her strength; she doesn’t complain. Ama says, “She doesn’t rant or grumble even though she is immersed in chronic pain and cannot use her body. Suffering is her constant companion, yet the Spirit of God is her comforter so she is always gracious. This is an act of the Holy Spirit.”

Joni sees that her response to suffering matters. In A Spectacle of Glory, she says, “In your natural self, you might complain about your routine or difficulties. In God’s strength, however, you bite your tongue and refuse to grumble, because you recognize God in those very situations.” She goes on to say, “I want [God] to gain glory through the way I live out this “normal” day… that people would see a difference between the way I would naturally respond and the way [God] enables me to respond by [his] Spirit. May people who observe my life see that gap and give the credit to [God].”

Joni doesn’t want the credit for herself. She wants it all to go to Jesus and encourages believers not to take the credit for strength in the midst of trials. Joni says, “Yes, we may show flashes of great strength in dark and desperate times – but it’s not our strength. For those who battle daily with chronic pain or physical disabilities, the reminders of our weakness are even more stark; we can never really forget how powerless we are. But that’s good!”

What has Ama learned after being with Joni? She’s learned to be grateful for all things. She understands that God intimately knows our pain and suffering. He doesn’t just meet us in our pain and suffering – he’s already there, waiting for us. And through serving Joni and her husband Ken, Ama has seen the great God they serve. A God who meets the disabled around the world and offers them his grace.

Ama has also worked with the ministry of Joni and Friends (JAF), and is quick to say that the ministry is not fundamentally about Joni. It is about trusting God and relying on his grace in all aspects of our lives. It’s about loving and embracing the disabled and disenfranchised, rather than overlooking them. It’s about ministering to the families of people affected by disability all over the world, sharing the gospel of hope.

Joni and Friends and their Wheels for the World program is changing lives. Ama, who has visited numerous countries with JAF, shared how people with disabilities in poorer countries struggle with no relief. They are marginalized and shunned, often treated as cursed. Ama vividly remembers a woman, lying prostrate on the dirt floor, begging God to let her live one day longer than her disabled son because otherwise no one would bother to care for him. Ama was heartbroken for her, yet marveled at this woman’s extraordinary walk with God.

Joni, along with countless disabled people and their families around the world, lives with a breathtaking dependence on Jesus and a supernatural sense of God’s presence. Joni says: “I wish I could adequately describe what it’s like when I’m aware of the overwhelming presence and power of God’s grace in my life. It’s like “living above” my wheelchair in a strata of heart-splitting joy that comes with God-breathed courage to tackle whatever lies ahead! Frankly, I believe that the more aware you are of God’s grace, the more joy and courage you will have. This raises the question: when are we most aware of God’s grace? It isn’t when we are riding high with the string of green lights and open doors before us. No, it’s when we are needy and feeling spiritually impoverished.”

Heart-splitting joy, God-breathed courage, the overwhelming presence and power of God- what a spectacular testimony to God’s grace.  Looking at the life of Joni Eareckson Tada, who after 50 years of quadriplegia is even more convinced that God’s grace is sufficient for her, I am in awe. Not in awe of Joni, but in awe of the God who comes to us in our suffering, gives us courage to tackle what lies ahead, who alone is worthy of all honor and praise.

 

Help! My Life Needs Work!

How do you examine your life?

I have been thinking about that question for the past month or so. I could divide my life activities into categories, slices of life, layers, paths or any way that helps me evaluate how I am doing in this world. You may have a category for books and reading, hobbies, enjoyment, the spiritual life, whatever engages you the best in seeing yourself. I do admit that I am not in favor of categorizing my life. It leaves me open to behaving in one category without seeing how it effects me in the other categories. It’s the same as departmentalizing  life.

I don’t like to see  my spiritual life as a department or a layer at all but as an overall setting that defines me.

Right now I am struggling with prayer and with hobbies. Ya, I know that sounds funny. But everyone needs some recreation. And prayer is even more necessary.

I have played with a lot of hobbies in my life. Lately, I ‘m thinking about soap making. I don’t know what I will do with it but you can bet I will be clean. I will report more on that when I actually get working on it. Have any of you made soap before?

Do you have any helpful suggestions? Would you let me know what your hobby is and how you are doing on it?

Now, for part two. I am struggling for a deep prayer life. Because my pain is so intense, it is later in the day before I can get my mind wrapped around praying for anyone other than myself. Selfish, I know. And, I haven’t always been that way. I used to use my own pain as a reminder of others who are in pain or in a bad situation. I would like to get back to that stage. My morning prayer can stretch out to friends and family as I work to get my mind off myself. But generally not further than right  now. That comes later in the day.

 

The Bible tells us to pray for everyone including the king (our president.)  1First of all, then,I urge that petitions, prayers, prayers for others, and thanksgiving be offered on behalf of everyonefor kings and all those in authority, so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.… I Tim. 1-2

Phil 1:3-4 I thank my God every time I remember you. In every prayer for all of you, I always pray with joy. (This is how I pray for all of you!)

I especially like Luke 18:1   Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that
they should always pray and not give up. . . .

Whenever I am weak in faith, I am reminded that Jesus knew we would all feel like giving up at times because our prayers are not being answered rapidly. So, I let his words remind me that he does hear me so I should keep on praying.

There are so many different kinds of prayer. Yet, generally, prayer is talking to God and we can do that any place any time. However, setting aside a specific time of day as an appointment to spend time with God can be compared to communication in a a marriage. You can call or text your spouse several times a day. But enjoying time over a meal to talk, going out on a date, or scheduling time together for intimacy is so much different from the casual phone call. That is very much like enjoying God’s presence in prayer. That is what I want to work on. It is essential to having a loving relationship with him. If like me, you are having difficulty maintaining your prayer life, let me know.  We can pray for each other.

And, by the way, if you read this blog beginning on FaceBook, you can join so it will land right in your mailbox. Go to jackiepippin.com  to subscribe.

See you next week,

Jackie

 

The Truth Will Set You Free

The American war for independence was hard fought and hard won.

The colonists drew weapons on a  familiar face and a  common heritage. For the colonists knew the truth: They could not grow as nation as long as they were controlled by other forces. Still this knowledge of truth was not a formula that guaranteed success, nor did it produce instant liberty. This truth was the catalyst, the driving force, that gave them the courage to wage the battle even when they were frightened, tired, and discouraged.

Today, too many of us think a truth can be recited from a creed and freedom can be claimed by declaring it so.

Discovering truth is a difficult task. Truth is not the hope diamond. It is not a jewel already chiseled ad polished. Rather it is mined piece by piece. And, in the process of  finding, learning about, working through, and living with truth, freedom is born.

 

     Like precious stones truth reflects the secrets of our lives. Perhaps  you have been controlled by unrealistic fears or all too real addictions. Perhaps, like the colonists, your biggest enemy is familial, going back through generations.

In John 8 31-32, Jesus told his followers if they had held to his teaching (did what he said), they would really be his disciples (changed people).Then they would know the truth. They would actually experience it in their lives. They would discover it for themselves and the truth would set them free.  The celebration of new behaviors would engage them in the process of freedom.

Change is a massive battle,  and living as a free person is not easy. Old masters must not only be thrown off, they must be kept from returning. The continued practice of new actions will stand guard over your freedom.  The battle is formidable. But ask any veteran–knowing the truth is your finest ammunition!

 

 YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH WILL MAKE YOU FREE

 

Are any of these taskmasters governing your time or your relationships?

 ADDICTIONS: drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling

OBSESSIONS: money, shopping, work, your age or appearance, health, success, possessions

PASSIONS:  anger, guilt, jealousy, rage, hate, bitterness, envy, power

HABITS:  Too much television, abusive language, overeating, poor food choices, speeding, tardiness, procrastination

FEARS:  death, pain, disease, becoming a crime victim, of loss, of crowds