“Every calamity is to be overcome by endurance.”
Joni Eareckson Tada would never have predicted the way her life would turn out. As a teenager she enjoyed riding horses, hiking, tennis and swimming. Options for her future were abundant.
But all of that changed on July 30, 1967. She was only 17 years old when she dove into the Chesapeake Bay, misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down without the use of her hands.
Joni wrote of her experiences in her 1976 international bestselling autobiography, Joni. There she described her two years of rehabilitation where she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts and serious doubts to her fervent Christian faith.
During her rehabilitation Joni spent long months learning how to paint with a brush between her teeth. Her high-detail fine art paintings and prints are sought after and collected.
Joni’s life is an incredible example of the human spirit to emerge against all odds. And though her life received special joy in 1981 when she married Ken Tada, she faced yet another health challenge in 2010 when she was diagnosed and eventually emerged successfully from breast cancer surgery.
Joni has written over 50 books and her daily five minute radio program, “Joni and Friends,” is heard in over 1,000 broadcast outlets. She has traveled to nearly 50 countries and has been interviewed four times on “Larry King Live,” “ABC World News Tonight,” and in magazines such as “Christianity Today” and “World Magazine.” Her service with disability organizations and awards are too numerous to mention here. Her life is amazing.
Yes, life is more difficult for some than for others. But, the older I get the more I have come to realize that life is eventually difficult for everyone. I didn’t always believe that. Early, I was too young and too naive to know any better. But when you bury a father as a son, and you bury a son as a father before you turn 25 as I did, you learn the reality of life’s challenges very quickly.
Only with the perspective that accrues with the years does one understand Edwin Hubbel Chapin who said, “Not in achievement, but in endurance, of the human soul, does it show its divine grandeur and its alliance with the infinite.”
You cannot understand Joni’s life without referencing her faith in God. She is known for believing God no matter what the circumstances and living life no matter what the challenges.
She and people like her become incredible role models for all of us. They remind us that no matter what we face in life, there is a way somehow to rise above it. Most of us do not face the challenges of becoming a quadriplegic at 17 years of age. But if Joni can live with purpose and meaning after facing such a debilitating injury, so can you and I.
No wonder Thomas Merton wrote, “Souls are like wax waiting for a seal. The wax that has melted in God’s will can easily receive the stamp of its identity, the truth of what it was meant to be. But the wax that is hard and dry and brittle and without love will not take the seal; for the seal, descending upon it, grinds it to powder.
“Therefore, if you spend your life trying to escape from the heat of the fire that is meant to soften and prepare you to become your true self and if you try to keep your substance from melting in the fire as if your true identity were to be hard wax, the seal will fall upon you at last and crush you. You will not be able to take your one true name and countenance and you will be destroyed by the event that was meant to be your fulfillment.”
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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