He has chosen not to heal me, but to hold me. The more intense the pain, the closer His embrace.

Joni Eareckson Tada

When Abbi Met Joni

Mom had left her copy out.

So when I found The Unforgettable Story of a Young Woman’s Struggle Against Quadriplegia and Depression with that puzzling picture of a pretty young thing with a pointy paintbrush trailing out of her smiling mouth, this 13 year-old reader was intrigued. And I picked up Joni. I read about her carefree, Maryland life. I read until her paralyzing  dive the July when Joni was 17.

“How awful!” I shuddered and determined never to dive again.

Then I put Joni down.

We were to meet again five years later at an college missions conference in Urbana, Illinois. Joni was all the buzz in our dorm so I tagged along with my roommate to a breakout session featuring a middle-aged Joni. We stole in that classroom and as I staked my claim on a rare square foot of hardwood still vacant, I scanned the transfixed faces all around me. I remember thinking, I don’t know Joni like they do. My adolescent impression of Joni as  portent and victim still held sway.

But not for long.

If Joni can…I Can

As she sat strapped in her wheelchair, tenacious faith and God’s strong grace poured from Joni’s lips. By the end of that hour Joni had moved from tragic victim to epic hero of the faith. Joni’s dive changed my life.

That summer, I signed up for the most grueling job of life. My campers were eternal souls living in disabled bodies and with damaged minds attending a Joni And Friends affiliated camp. And while I did it out of love for God, I also took it on for Joni.

A few years later, now married, degreed and employed, I began a ladies’ book club. Our first pick? Joni’s own, When God Weeps, subtitled, “Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.” Then it was Holiness in Hidden Places and A Place Of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain and God’s Sovereignty. Beside my bed now? A Spectacle of Glory.

And if you happen to live nearby and want to borrow a Joni book- please, just drop a line.

If Joni can give thanks, I can too. If Joni can trust God, I can too. If Joni cares for them, I can too. If Joni loves Jesus that much, I can too. 

The Dive That Drives Us To God

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the dive that paralyzed Joni and brought hope and courage to so many, countless lives, If Joni can give thanks and trust God’s love from her wheelchair, with her cancer and chronic pain, surely, by God’s grace, I can too. 

We all struggle in various ways. We all suffer and have heartaches and backaches and pain . Some of us grumble and turn against God or reject His power or refuse to believe He is love.  Some of us wrestle with the mysteries of suffering, pain and God’s sovereignty. All of us want to know our suffering matters to the Almighty.  Joni has suffered and still suffers,  with chronic, sometimes excruciating pain.

But Joni trusts that God is weeping with her, suffered for her, and she joyfully presses on. Joni  speaks and writes and breathes for the glory of God.

So even though I’ve already posted about my heroes and quoted Joni before, this post is all of gratitude to God for my hero in the faith, Joni Eareckson Tada.

These dozen quotes from Joni might help explain why.

  1. “Heartache forces us to embrace God out of desperate, urgent need. God is never closer than when your heart is aching.”
  2. “Like a black, velvety cloth set against diamonds, your disability provides a remarkable backdrop that magnifies patience, perseverance, endurance, and an uncomplaining spirit. These Christlike qualities that God longs to cultivate in your life are amplified against your obvious hardships. Your chronic condition is obvious to others—but what God wants to make obvious..is your perseverance and lack of complaint.”
  3. Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”
  4. Contentment is realizing that God has already given us everything we need for our present happiness. It is the wise person who doesn’t grieve for the things he doesn’t have, but rejoices over the things he does have.”
  5. “Suffering provides the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.”
  6. God’s children are never victims. Everything that touches their lives, he permits. The irony is, you can’t imagine a more victimized person than Jesus. Yet when he died, he didn’t say, “I am finished” but “It is finished.” He did not play the victim, and thus he emerged the victor. Forget the self-pity…victory is ours in Christ. His grace is sufficient. Know this truth and it will set you free.”
  7. Only God is capable of telling us what our rights and needs are. You have to surrender that right to Him.”
  8. “God uses chronic pain and weakness…as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependency on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away.”
  9. True wisdom is found in trusting God when you can’t figure things out.”
  10. “I’d learned that you can’t wear a crown unless you bear a cross – that if our Savior had learned obedience through suffering, we should expect the same.”
  11. “You don’t hear any cheers or applause. The days run together―and so do the weeks. Your commitment to keep putting one foot in front of the other is starting to falter…Perseverance. Determination. Fortitude. Patience…Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. Look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a crop at harvest . . . so don’t give up!”
  12. “Let affliction have its perfect work. The result? Nothing short of the unspeakable splendor of Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

“Heaven is just around the corner.”

That’s a quote from the last page of A Place Of Healing, But it’s not the last word. Joni follows it up, faithful, friendly and forthright as ever, with a favor- for us:

Would you do what so many of us who are paralyzed or too lame or too old or disabled can’t do? Would you open your Bible to Psalm 95:6, read it aloud, and then do what it says?

I can’t kneel, but if you can, do.

Kneel before the Lord God, your Maker and mine. And while you’re down there, if you fell so inclined, thank Him for being so good to a paralyzed woman named Joni.”

Yes, Lord. Yes- thank you for being so good to us by being so good to a paralyzed woman named Joni. 

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep of his hand.

Psalm 95:6-7

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  1. http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/july/joni-eareckson-tada-fifty-years-wheelchair-walk-jesus.html

    Abs, I got to lead worship when Joni taught at the Christian Medical and Dental Alliance national meetings last spring. It was probably the most …. oh, what words don’t just sound like superlatives…. IMPORTANT such event I have done in a decade. To spend those two days in close work with her was exactly as I dreamed it would be since I read her book just about the same year you did. I saw dignity. Hope. Trust. Joy. Perseverance. Laughter. It’s all there, and it’s all true.

    I wrote two songs during her two messages, both of which I sang directly afterwards – one she asked to use at her next national donor gathering, thanks be to God – so I am grateful and amazed that it seems my opportunities to hang out with her haven’t come to an end. If I can get the links to those songs to work, I’ll get them to you. They are a testament to God’s presence as we met, the faithfulness of his beautiful servant Joni, and a room full of doctors, nurses, medical ethicists, and missionaries who were hanging on her every word.

    Thank you for reminding us all of this astonishing sister today. Thank you.


      1. “The place where Jesus brought me isn’t one I’d choose alone
        But I’d rather sit here with him than stand on my feet alone
        So may my life reflect the glory like a diamond shining bright
        May they see the Spirit in my giving strength to face the fight
        From the hidden treasured storehouse of his Word alive in me
        Comes the current of his faithfulness-this is my legacy.”
        -Song by Stephanie Seefeldt, inspired by Joni, 2016

        Thank you Steph. Your song stirs my soul. Joni’s legacy is your legacy is every saint legacy.
        And again I am in awe of the God whose Spirit and Word give us new birth into living hope.
        (Can we ever “walk in the dark with Jesus”?)

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