Did you miss Part I? Listen here.
Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder and chief executive officer of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, is an international advocate for people with disabilities.
A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations. She founded Joni and Friends in 1979 to provide Christ-centered programs to special-needs families, as well as training to churches. Joni and Friends serves thousands of special-needs families through Family Retreats, and has delivered over 100,000 wheelchairs and Bibles to needy disabled persons in developing nations.
Joni’s lifelong passion is to bring the Gospel to the world’s one billion people with disabilities. Joni survived stage 3 breast cancer in 2010, yet keeps a very active ministry schedule. She and her husband Ken were married in 1982 and reside in Calabasas, California.
EASLEY: Well I want to welcome you today’s broadcast again with Joni Eareckson Tada. A sheer privilege to know Joni, to call her my friend, and to have her on inContext. Joni’s story, if you have not heard it, this is the second part of our interview with Joni is quite remarkable. The seventeen year old, a very athletic young woman dove off a pier in a lake and as a result became a quadriplegic. Through a number of years of rehabilitation and learning how to live a life now, as a teenage girl, as a quadriplegic, is a herculean feat for anyone. Now in her forty-seventh year in a wheelchair, she is being used by God in incredible ways, helping people around the world with disabilities, from wheelchair distribution to camps for families that have a profoundly disabled individual in their home. She continues to travel non stop to speak non stop as well as her radio broadcast ministry. Today, we pick up the program where we left off last time and we were talking about the controversy surrounding a song from the movie, Alone, Yet Not Alone, written by Bruce Broughton and Dennis Spiegel. Joni was asked to record this and it’s no small task for a quadriplegic to be able to sing because of the diaphragm control and being confined to a wheelchair and the respiration issues so Ken helped her physically to produce the song that you’ve been listening to. Let’s pick of the second part of the interview where Joni talks about the controversy about the song and how it was nominated for an Oscar and how the nomination was then rescinded.
You know, Joni, you know it’s interesting because some perhaps saw that in the news and followed a little bit of the controversy. I just thought it was remarkable, and who knows in God’s economy, do you think it got more attention because of the way it was treated, then or not? I know we can’t gage that, but it’s intriguing to me. Let’s put it that way. What do you think?
TADA: I think so. I think that controversy stirred a lot of interest. Not only in the Christian community, but I was amazed at the numbers of people in the entertainment industry, in Hollywood, Rolling Stone Magazine, and Billboard Magazine even the Hollywood Reporter commented how, “What a good song they felt it was, and how they felt the academy perhaps had succumbed to too much pressure in rescinding the nomination.” But a lot of people certainly did listen to it, and in a way I was saved, Michael, from having to sing this song in front of a billion people at the Academy Awards. Oh my goodness! Don’t know if I could have done that. I would have said, “Amy Grant, you step in here. You can do this. I don’t know if I can.”
E: Well, I thought it was fabulous, and I thought it was just a delight to watch you do it and to know who you are and a little bit behind the scenes. It gave just it all that much more power for Cindy and me.
Joni and I talked about a lot of things in this interview. We had too much fun. But if you have not had an opportunity to hear that song, I want to direct you to the web. You can just simply search, Alone, Yet Not Alone, with the word, Joni and you’ll find the youtube video as well as the official movie website and you can listen to the song in it’s entirety, which I would encourage you to do. I know you’ll enjoy the entire song. The second stanza was meaningful to me. “I will not be bent in fear. He’s the refuge I know is near. In His strength I find my own. By His faithful mercies shown, so that mighty is His shield all His love is now revealed.”
To often in the Christian life, we think if we live right, do the right things, we try to obey God, we try to be “good Christians,” that are life should work out, that it should be easy, that we should be blessed and while there are some remnants of truth in that, the reality is we’re all going to suffer. As a pastor for thirty years, I could tell you stories all afternoon, as you could tell me stories about people we know who have been through extraordinary amounts of conflict, suffering and affliction. There’s a passage in 2 Corinthians, the first chapter, verses 3-7, that I often will send in a card or a letter to someone who’s going through some incredible difficulties, where Paul uses his back and forth text. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Listen to this: For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance. Who says things like this? Paul is saying, “The sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, listen! so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” I encourage you to look at that passage on your own, I Corinthians chapter one, verses 3-7. And Joni and I continued talking about what it’s like to live as a suffering believer.
Joni, you and I talk about what it means to bear our cross daily, pick up our cross and bear it daily, living with suffering. The passage that I read out of 2 Corinthians, obviously you’ve thought about this for forty seven years now. So how does Joni get up and do it? What’s your perspective on it?
T: Well, I’m never surprised by suffering. Even the Bible tells us don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeals, but constantly it seems that we are surprised. I think, we Christians tend to live in life’s joys dreading the coming sorrows. That’s the way our culture has skewed our thinking but the Bible says the Christian should be living in the midst of life’s sorrows and tasting the coming joy. Too often, I think that we as believers would love to erase the word suffering out of the dictionary. We want to give it ibuprofen. We want to medicate it, drug it, escape it. We want to shove it aside, we want to divorce it, institutionalize it, surgically exorcise it, clone it, kill it, do everything but live with it. We just don’t know how to live with suffering and actually, Michael, to be quite honest, we don’t know how to live with suffering apart from Jesus Christ. I know you don’t and I know I don’t. I know that the times when I sense the most powerful, sweet, poignant, tender intimacy of the Lord Jesus is when I go to Him and say, “I can’t. I cannot do this.” And indeed Jesus says, “Without me you can do nothing.” So I think sometimes we forget that. We tend to look back on that time when we first came to Christ and we say to God, “You know, I’ve been a Christian a while and I’ve kind of got the ropes. I kind of know the lay of the land. Lord, I’m going to start my day here and I promise I won’t do anything stupid to stain your reputation. I’m not going to do anything untoward which will smear or sully your good name. But you know, I’ll keep my nose clean. I’ve got the lay of the land. I can do this. So let me handle it from here, God.” We just go out into the day living life under our own steam. We don’t live with an utter reliance on the Lord Jesus. But it’s suffering which pushes us to that point of “Help, I cannot do this” and causes us to lean hard on the grace of God. Suffering is a mystery and I cannot explain it, but I do know it is not a mystery without direction. The direction the Bible gives us is to look at Jesus, look to Jesus, lean on Jesus. He wrote the book on suffering and, oh my goodness, when they hang you on a cross, like meat on a hook, you ought to have the last word on suffering. He’s the go to person. He’s the one we cleave to. If it were not for our afflictions, I just don’t think we’d lean as hard on Him daily as we should.
E: I remember we think of Peter’s confession when he acknowledges that Jesus is the Christ. There was a segment in John where a lot of the disciples are peeling off. And Christ turns to the twelve and says, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” And Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. When I get to that bottom of that barrel, and I dont’ want to get out of that bed, and don’t’ want to walk down that hall, and don’t want to go through a hundredth of the steps that you have to go through, I remind myself, you know there’s no other place to go. I’ve got to go to Him. I have to go to Christ, because I’m not incapable. I’m impotent. I’m immobile. There’s not anything I can do apart from Him. But we think we can.
T: We think we can and that is the lie, that not only our culture but our adversary would love for us to believe: that we can do this on our own, but we simply can’t. One of the verses that I often think of when things become a little overwhelming is Luke chapter 9:23, “If anyone would come after me,” the Lord Jesus says, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” You know, I used to think my cross was my wheelchair. Oh my goodness, this is my burden to bear. I’ve gotta carry this quadriplegia. But my cross is not my disability, I think my cross is my attitude about the wheelchair. It’s my attitude about the disability. That’s what I have to put to death. To take up your cross means you put to death something in your life that needs to be done away with. My attitude at times stinks! It is so rotten.
Curiously enough, you mentioned at the top of our program, how I inspire you. Oh my goodness, Michael, I know so many people with disabilities around the world, especially in developing nations, people that I’m friends with. I see how they handle their disability in the midst of crushing, bruising, poverty and pain with no medical clinics, no doctors who are prescribing medications, no help, no social supports. God has made the poor of this world to be rich in faith. They inspire me. In fact, I have a photograph on the wall next to my desk. Its a man in Africa who’s a paraplegic. He was unable to come to our wheelchair distribution. He was just in too much pain. He was able to take some alcohol to deaden his pain. There was no other medication available. For the most part, he lives an extremely humble life doing what he can to eek out a living in this desperate plight that he lives in. Thankfully, the villagers have taken great pity on him because he is a remarkable man of good character. I keep his photo on the wall because when I wheel into my office and I’m grouchy or I’m peevish, or I have a sullen spirit or my heart is dry, or my soul fills calloused and cracked, and I don’t feel like going on, I want to throw in the towel before the day has hardly begun. I glance up and there’s that man. I don’t even know his name, but he inspires me. He represents to me the one billion people with disabilities who live, and eighty percent of them live in developing nations like he does. Oh my goodness, I want to do all I can to put to death that rotten attitude that I have, to mortify it, to take up my cross and crucify my peevish spirit and persevere, not only for the sake of Christ, but for the sake of brethren like him. We are called to not only honor God, but to also honor those around us. We owe them a good testimony. I owe my Christian sisters and brothers a good testimony, because I’m intimately and intricately and linked to them and my victories can become theirs. I certainly don’t want to spread cowardice, or fear, or timidity or bad attitudes by my rotten perspective on the day. I want to have a good attitude because I owe my friends around me that. I owe them that at least.
E: Philip Brooks wrote a devotional called, The Candle of the Lord in 1800’s and this is a quote that I go back to again and again. Let me get your reaction to it, you may be familiar with it. “The reason we are lead into trouble and out again is not merely that we may value happiness more from having lost it once and found it again, but that we may know something which we could not have know except by that teaching, that we may bear upon our nature some impress which could not have been stamped on nature’s except softened to receive it.”
T: I hope everybody that is listening wrote down that quote because I know what Michael, I want you to send it to me, or post it on your website or something. I love Phillip.
E: People have asked you this and God has taught you things and you want to, as my friend Dave Gibson says, “You want to give a spiritual dope slap.” They asked you these questions and you go, “Snap out of it. Come on.” But I love the language “that we may bear upon our natures some impress which could not have been stamped except on natures just so softened to receive it.”
You and I know God not better, but differently than apart from a wheelchair, than apart from chronic back pain?
T: Absolutely! I think another way to paraphrase that Phillips Brooks quote, well take for instance James chapter 1:12, Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial. Ok, we know that in our heads, but God wants us to feel it in our bones. He wants us to feel it in our bones. How do we persevere under trial, except in the midst of an overwhelming trial, we utterly cast ourselves on the mercy of Christ. Then we, as you say, know Him not necessarily better, but we know Him deeper or differently. We know Him perhaps more intimately because we have stepped inside the inner sanctum of sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings. And I know that many people look at that portion of Scripture from Philippians and say, “That’s just about persecution.” But I think to participate in the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings, is to have a good attitude when you’re nailed to a cross. That is doing something for the sake of Christ. That is bonding with Him in an intimate and personal way when you’re…..
E: But we’re not doing that in the flesh, right? We’re not mustering up that attitude, right?
T: That’s right. Absolutely! We’re hard pressed on every side but we’re not crushed. We’re perplexed, and truly we are perplexed, but we are not in despair. Man, we are close to despair. Sometimes it feels like I’m so close to despair. We are persecuted. We are not abandoned, we are knocked down, but we are not knocked out. For every day, we carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might be revealed in these bodies of ours. That’s from 2 Corinthians, Chapter 4. That’s such a main stay. That’s such an anchor. That’s such a pillar, when it comes to moving forward into our walk with Christ, for you too, Michael, and I hope for our listeners who are struggling. I trust that our listeners, your friends, my friends, are being bolstered in their spirits by these wonderful hook, lines, and sinkers that we are sharing from the Bible.
E: It is interesting that we’re surprised, you mentioned earlier about, “Why are we surprised when suffering occurs, when we live in a fallen nature, a fallen bodies, in a fallen context and we’re waiting for that new Kingdom, new earth, new bodies, new reality? But we reach for the ibuprofen. I call it the spiritual ibuprofen. You know, where’s the solution? Lord, teach me the lesson so I can get well. That’s really what we’re asking. We’re not asking so that I can continue to live with the suffering.
E: Over the years, when it wears on you, you and I have seen people that handle this very well and some that handle it very poorly. And it breaks our heart when we see them handle it poorly. Let’s envision that you and I have some real people in mind. Let’s say you’re talking to someone who is a very short for this earth. They’re in chronic miserable pain, perhaps cancer is taking its’ final toll, perhaps they’ve been a quadriplegic for many year, perhaps HIV, Aids, whatever, but they’re days are very short. What would you say to them?
T: Well first, if that person who was in pain, albeit facing a short life expectancy, I would remind them that their citizenship is in heaven anyway. For we all eagerly, (I love that adverb), we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power who enables Him to bring everything under His control will transform our lowly bodies. Perhaps there are friends listening to us whose bodies are racked with pain, or disease, or terminal illness, well God is going to transform that lowly body, so that it will be like His glorious body. That is a hopeful thing to look forward to. That is hopeful! That is so encouraging to know that your suffering will not be wasted as you persevere and trust in Christ. There’s a wonderful Bible verse in Isaiah chapter 50 that says, Let he who walks in darkness, who has not one ray of light, trust in the name of the Lord. Even if you’re in spiritual, emotional, and physical darkness, trust in the name of the Lord, for your citizenship is in heaven. He is going to transform your lowly body to be like His. Continue to trust Him because you are indeed enlarging your eternal estate. Jesus is going to embrace you and say, “Well done good and faithful servant. You have persevered and now enter in and the joy of your Master.” But if there are some listening who do not know Jesus Christ for whom their sufferings are a waste, my encouragement to them would be, not to let it be that way. Do not waste your sufferings. And do not waste your life of sin. Bundle it up. Put it at the foot of the cross. Confess it before your God and invite Him to sit on the throne of your heart and allow Him to send His Holy Spirit to empower you to live the kind of life with what few remaining days you have. To live the kind of life that will not only please and honor Him, but accrue for you a citizenship in heaven and a rich welcome, and a reward awaiting you in heaven. Let this suffering be not that what drives you away from God, but let suffering be that, which drives you to Him.
E: We’ve been talking with Joni Eareckson Tada. If you want to find out more, you need to go to Joniandfriends.org and you can find a robust website with Wheels for the World, family retreats, her television programs, her five minute dailty radio program, resources, and on and on. It’s a very robust site. Find out what Joni is doing in the ministry that she has birthed. Pray for her and pray for Ken, our great friend who is there with her all the time. We’ll have to get Ken on next time and chat with him.
T: Absolutely! Michael, he loves you.He prays for you daily as well as do I.
E: Oh, he’s a prince. I’m holding Joni and Ken’s’ book,The Untold Love Story. Ken and Joni put this out with Larry Libby. It’s a delightful read. It’ll give you some insights on what their marriage has been like. You come up on thirty-three years?
T: Yup, we are. What a great guy I’m married to.
E: And he married a precious woman, so. We love you. I thank you so much for giving us this time. Cindy and I continue to pray for you and Ken and for this fabulous ministry you have. Keep pressing on. You’re my hero.
T: Absolutely! You know, and to our friends who have hung in there with us on the radio, I would pray Ephesians Chapter 1. I pray that the listeners, their eyes, hearts have been enlightened, that they may know the hope to which God has called them, the riches of His glorious inheritance, and I hope our listening friends have gained an insight into the incomparably great power which is theirs if they would just believe in the midst of their hardships.
E: Amen. Good word, young lady. Thank you my friend.
T: Good word. Good words from you too, Michael. Love you
E: Love you too.
I feel like I never enough time with Joni. Everytime I get to visit with her in person, or on the phone, or in the studio now, it’s just a delight and I’m overwhelmed. I often tell Joni, “Whenever I talk with you I take my shoes off.” For me this broadcast, “don’t waste your suffering.” I don’t know about you. I don’t know what’s going on in your heart and head. But I can tell you, Michael Easley, wastes a lot of his suffering. It’s a challenge to deal with pain. It’s a challenge to deal with the disappointments of life. It’s hard for all of us. Here’s a woman who loves Christ, forty seven years in a wheelchair, cancer, chronic pain, all kinds of challenges, and to hear her heart for Christ, her unvarnished authenticity. She truly loves God, and she truly loves people who suffer.
Your God, Jesus Christ, truly loves you. I hope you won’t waste your suffering, and I hope you’ll meditate on some of what Joni shared as well as some of the passages we’ve referred to. By the way, may you remember when you’re alone, you’re not alone. This is Michael Easley inContext.