Joni Eareckson Tada turned 73 on October 15, 2022. She’s spent five decades in a wheelchair after a diving accident in the Chesapeake Bay left her a quadriplegic at the age of 17.
Wheelchairs and Pits
Can you imagine the challenges of accepting and embracing that new reality?
There was another 17-year-old who faced his own literal pit of despair. In the book of Genesis, the chronicle of a teen-aged Joseph unfolds with him being sold into slavery by his brothers, and later incarcerated for doing the right thing. Decades later he becomes 2nd in command of the Egyptian empire and saves the world from a famine. (Genesis 37, 38-50)
God has a way of profiling his power in people like Joseph and Joni through their suffering.
Not long after the accident, Joni’s friend Steve Estes encouraged her with these words: “Sometimes God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” She grew to believe those words and later created her own mission statement to affirm that truth: “I want to be God’s best audio-visual aid of how His power shows up best in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
That perspective shines through what Joni says. “God is not a sweep-up boy who follows you with a dustpan and brush, second-guessing how everything will fit into a divine pattern for good. God’s hands stay on the wheel of your life from start to finish… everything follows His intention for your life.”
That doesn’t make life easy for Joni. She talks about living with chronic sleep deprivation because of repeatedly being woken up through the night from pain. There is no way to relieve the pain because she can’t turn. She prays until she falls asleep again. That practise is a life saver for her.
An Unforgettable Story
At age 18, I read and re-read Joni’s first book, “Joni: An Unforgettable Story.” The cover image of her painting by holding a brush in her teeth captured my imagination and admiration.
She wrote how well intentioned Christians suggested she didn’t have enough faith to be physically healed. She prayed. Fasted. Asked ministers to pray for her. She was not healed. She was blamed. Those experiences left her doubtful and embittered.
But God helped her rise above the fray. Years later, Joni’s experience helped me through my own time of doubt and discouragement with health and a lack of healing. I’ve appealed to her story to support other Christians facing disability and depression who were told they don’t have enough faith to receive their miracle.
Joni brings healing to people from her wheelchair. She has battled cancer and innumerable setbacks but lives out her role as an audio-visual aid of God’s power. Get a daily, 4-minute dose of encouragement by listening to her podcast, “Sharing Hope.”
On October 15, 2022 she wrote, “Today I turn 73! That number alone tells me I’m nearer to heaven than ever before. I am nearer to my glorified body than I am to those far away days when I was on my feet. I do not know how much longer God will keep me on earth, but the older I get, the more I need the wisdom of God to make the most, the best of my time here. With quadriplegia, cancer, lung concerns, chronic pain, and increasing age, life keeps getting harder. But I want to be a wise steward of every 24-hour slice of time God has given me.
In short? I am numbering my days and making certain to invest my time into things that will last for eternity. I’m investing my days in people whom I love, people I pray for, and those whom I long to be with in heaven. That includes you and the millions of people with disabilities who have not yet heard of God’s love for them.
Now, I’m no math expert (and don’t ask about my grades in Algebra), but I believe there’s a formula here which is worth considering. The Lord tells me I am to number my days because each day is an opportunity in which to invest in a thousand years’ worth of heaven. Each 24-hour slot of time is like a millennium in God’s sight. So, a single pain-filled day is my chance to make heaven more ‘heavenly’ for me, as I trust God in my suffering.
This perspective gives great meaning to every smile I offer, every prayer I utter, every gentle word of encouragement I give, or every refusal to retaliate when someone wounds me. All these acts of obedience count so much more than we think. So I’m thankful for each new day I have to invest. Today, my 73rd birthday, is a gift brimming with potential for all of eternity. For me and for you.”
How has Joni influenced your life? Please leave a comment below.
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Joni’s Journey is amazing. What an inspiring person & the experiences that she has had in her 73 years on this earth. She has risen to the challenges that she has been given. That in itself is a huge feat. I don’t know if I would be as brave & successful as she has been. But, I have had major challenges in my life, and have also risen to the occasion. Thank you for sharing her story with us Pastor Bob. I look forward to your blogs every week. 🙂 Keep on, keeping on. <3
Amazing testimony of how God has used Joni for so many years. She is and has been an inspiration to millions. Reading how she suffers with pain during the night and has to pray her way through till she falls asleep made me think about a night here and there that I don’t sleep, won’t be complaining anymore. Praying definitely works!
Thanks Bob, I needed that today.
Thank you for joining the conversation, Bunny. Joni is on display for all to see God’s grace.