Joni Eareckson Tada reflects on God’s faithfulness 50 years after diving accident

Joni Eareckson Tada speaking to The Gospel Herald.

Originally published in The Gospel Herald

Fifty years after she was paralysed in a tragic diving accident, Joni Eareckson Tada has reflected on God’s faithfulness — even in the midst of suffering.

At just 17 years old, the evangelical author, speaker and radio host was paralysed from the neck down after a freak diving accident in the Chesapeake Bay. Then, in 2015, she overcame a battle with stage III breast cancer after undergoing several years of treatment.

In a recent blog post for the Gospel Coalition, Joni reflected on how, 50 years ago, she hated her paralysis so much, she would drive her power wheelchair into walls, repeatedly banging them until they cracked.

“I just wanted to disappear. I wanted to die,” she admitted.

A drastically different life
Today, her life looks drastically different. In addition to being a best-selling author, Joni is a prominent disabilities advocate and president of Joni and Friends, a ministry providing programmes to special-needs families, as well as training to churches worldwide.

“What a difference time makes — as well as prayer, heaven-minded friends, and deep study of God’s Word,” she said. “All combined, I began to see there are more important things in life than walking and having use of your hands. It sounds incredible, but I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without Him. But whenever I try to explain it, I hardly know where to begin.”

Joni explained that now, she views suffering as the “textbook that teaches me who I really am, because I’m not the paragon of virtue I’d like to think I am.”

“Suffering keeps knocking me off my pedestal of pride,” she said. “Sometimes, when my scoliosis becomes extremely painful, I’ll murmur and drop hints to God that He’s piling on too much. Later, when the pain dissipates, I’ll make excuses: Lord, that’s not like me. I’m not like that at all. But it is like me. It’s exactly like me.”

How high the cosmic stakes are
Half a century of paralysis has also shown her “how high the cosmic stakes really are”, Joni said.

“Whenever I fidget in my confinement, I can almost hear Satan taunt God — as he did with Job — “Look at her, see? She doesn’t really trust you. Test her with more pain and You’ll see her true colours!” When the Devil insists God’s people only serve Him when life is easy, I have the high honour of proving him wrong. To be on the battlefield where the mightiest forces in the universe converge in warfare? By God’s grace, I’m all in.”

Joni reflected on how, last week, she and her husband Ken were at their Joni and Friends Family Retreat in Alabama when a college-aged volunteer approached her, holding a kid with Down syndrome on her hip.

“She gestured at the crowd and asked, ‘Miss Joni, do you ever think how none of this would be happening were it not for your diving accident?’ I flashed a smile and said, ‘It’s why I thank God every day for my wheelchair.’ After she left, I stared for a moment at the dining hall scene. I suddenly had a 35 000-foot view of the moment: She’s right . . . how did I get here?”

Grace in tiny moment
The When God Weeps author said it has “everything to do with God and His grace — not just grace over the long haul, but grace in tiny moments, like breathing in and out, like stepping stones leading you from one experience to the next.”

“The beauty of such grace is that it eclipses the suffering until one July morning, you look back and see five decades of God working in a mighty way,” she said. “Grace softens the edges of past pains, helping to highlight the eternal. What you are left with is peace that’s profound, joy that’s unshakable, faith that’s ironclad.”

She added, “It’s the hard, but beautiful, stuff of which God makes 50 years of your life. Like . . . when did that happen? I cannot say, but I sure love Jesus for it.”

Last year, Joni told CBN News that her pain has allowed her to experience God in a very real way and has given her a greater understanding of her need for a Saviour.

“It’s why the Apostle Paul said boast in your afflictions, glory in your infirmities, delight in the limitations for then you know — the power of God rests on you,” she said.

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