The Girl Who Broke Her Neck: The Story of Joni Eareckson Tada

13 06 2013

As a teenager, Joni loved life. She enjoyed riding horses, loved to swim. One summer in 1967, however, that all changed. While swimming with some friends, Joni dove into a lake not knowing how shallow it really was. She broke her neck, paralyzing her body from the neck down. For the next two years during her rehabilitation Joni struggled. She struggled with life, she struggled with God, and she struggled with her paralysis. Since then, Joni has written fourteen books, has recorded several musical albums, and she’s actively involved as an advocate for disabled people. On this tape you’ll hear how Joni, now an internationally known mouth artist, learned to accept her disability. And Joni will tell you how a personal relationship with God has helped her overcome the obstacles in her life and how you can experience the love of God, despite pain and suffering. Now with her life story, here’s Mrs. Joni Eareckson Tada:
Thanks for the wonderful introduction. Do I really do all those things? My goodness! But I don’t tap dance. One of these days, yes, but not quite.
It hardly seems 26 years ago, that I was lying on a hospital bed in suicidal despair, depressed, discouraged, after the hot July afternoon when I took that dive into shallow water, a dive which resulted in a severe spinal cord injury, which left me paralyzed from the shoulders down, without use of my hands and my legs. Before that time, I didn’t even know what you called people like me. Who are we? The physically challenged, the mobility impaired, the differently abled, handicapped. I knew we weren’t crippled or invalid. But I just didn’t have any contact with people who were hurting or in pain. That spinal cord injury changed all that. There I was lying in the hospital bed in the summer of 1967 desperately trying to make ends meet, desperately trying to turn my right side down emotions, right side up. In my pain and despair, I had begged many of my friends to assist me in suicide. That seems to be a common topic these days and many disabled people that I know even in the nineties have a tough time finding life worth living. I sought to find a final escape, a final solution, through assisted suicide, begging my friends to slit my wrists, dump pills down my throat, anything to end my misery. The source of my depression is understandable. I could not face the prospect of sitting down for the rest of my life without use of my hands, without use of my legs. All my hopes seem dashed. My faith was shipwrecked.
I was sick and tired of pious platitudes that well meaning friends often gave me at my bedside. Patting me on the head, trivializing my plight, with the 16 good biblical reasons as to why all this has happened. I was tired of advice and didn’t want anymore counsel. I was numb emotionally, desperately alone, and so very, very frightened. Most of the questions I asked, in the early days of my paralysis, were questions voiced out of a clenched fist, an emotional release, an outburst of anger. I don’t know how sincere my questions really were. I was just angry. But after many months those clench fists questions became questions of a searching heart. I sincerely and honestly wanted to find answers.
Now I knew, in a vague sort of way, that answers for my questions about my paralysis were probably hidden somewhere between the pages of the Bible, but I had no idea where. I needed a friend who would help me sort through my emotions, who would help bring me out of the social isolation, who would help me deal with the anger. A friend who would point me somewhere, anywhere, in God’s Word to help me find answers. I found a friend, a young man named Steve, who knew absolutely nothing about emptying leg bags or pushing wheel chairs and he had no idea what to call people like me, whether we were physically challenged, differently abled, mobility impaired. Don’t you get tired of all those fancy, schmancy euphonisms?
I remember my friend Steve, just a young teenager, who had a caring, compassionate heart, a love for God, and a halfway decent working knowledge of the Bible. At my bedside, I cornered him one day, and I said to Steve, “I just don’t get it! I trusted God before my accident. I wasn’t a bad person. This possibly couldn’t be a punishment for any sin that I’ve done. At least, I hope not. I don’t get it, Steve? If God is supposed to be all loving and all powerful, then how, what has happened to me, be a demonstration of His love and power? Because, Steve, if He’s all powerful, then surely He should have been powerful enough to stop my accident from happening? If He’s all loving then how in the world can permanent and lifelong paralysis be a part of His loving plan for my life? I just don’t get it! Unless I find some answers, I don’t see how this all loving and all powerful God is worthy of my trust and confidence. Who is in control? Who’s will is this anyway?” I said to him.
My friend Steve took a deep sigh and he was wise enough to discern that my question, again, was not voiced out of clench fist, but out of a searching heart. He knew I sincerely wanted to find an answer. And so he said, “Joni, those are tough questions and theologians have been trying to answer them for hundred of years. I can’t pretend to sit at your bedside and know why and how. I can’t pretend to explain the loving nature of God and how your accident is a demonstration of His power. But when it comes to the question about who is control, and who’s will is this anyway, I think I can show you some answers.” Huh, well! I wanted to see this! So I waited to see what he would say. I thought he might quote to me the sixteen good biblical reasons as to why all this has happened.
I thought surely he might lay out before me the blueprint of my life. I thought for sure he’d give me a lot of advice, a lot of his counsel, but no, Steve didn’t do that. Then he opened up his Bible and he pointed me to the example of Jesus Christ. He told me that in the life of Christ I could find the answers about God’s will. But he went even more specifically, he showed me Christ on the cross and he challenged me with a couple of hard hitting questions himself. Saying, “Joni who’s will do you think the cross was?” Well, I obediently remembered all those good Sunday school lessons I had learned growing up and I easily voiced in response, “God’s will, of course, it’s God’s will. Everybody knows that. But then Steve said, “Joni, think it through, because you better believe that it was the devil who entered the heart of Judas Iscariot who handed over Jesus for a mere 30 pieces of silver. And you got to know that it was Satan who instigated that mob on the streets to clamor for Christ’s crucifixion, and for sure, Joni, it had to be the devil who prodded those Roman soldiers to spit on Jesus and slap Him and mock Him. Even the devil inspired Pontius Pilate to hand down mock justice in order to gain political popularity. How can any of these things be God’s will? Treason, injustice, murder, torture?”
Well, I nodded and agreed. None of it seemed to be God’s will. But what about all those Sunday school lessons I had learned as a little girl? That the cross was God’s plan and purpose for all of mankind? My friend Steve turned to a verse in the Bible which helped answer that question about God’s will. He turned to Acts chapter 4:28 and it says there that these men, that is Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot, the mob in the streets, the cruel Roman soldiers, these men did what God’s power and will had decided before hand should happen. In other words, the cross was no mistake.

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