Joni Eareckson Tada, a highly sought after speaker, best-selling author, artist, and singer continues to inspire millions with her message of hope amidst suffering and trials. She is currently the longest surviving quadriplegic on record at 63. After her recent stage 3 bout with breast cancer, Joni has written pamphlets which deal with the deep and tough topics of the spiritual life. She has also released with her husband, Ken Tada, her newest book, Joni and Ken: The Untold Love Story.
Joni, who is known as a modern-day Job, has written these pamphlets to give hope and encouragement for those who suffer and doubt as they walk through the struggles and trials of life. The pamphlet topics are on unanswered prayer, anger, chronic pain and illness, anxiety, hope, loneliness, the end of life, suffering, God’s sovereignty, injustice, and finding happiness. These pamphlets are available through Rose Publishing.
Joni's unique gift of art shows that God's strengths are made known in our weaknesses.
Suffering—A Part of Life
Suffering and adversity are not dragons we can slay in this life. The Bible is clear that we will all suffer during our lives. In her own unique way of expression, Joni helps each of us to see how God uses pain, suffering, injustice, and trials to drive us deeper in our faith and closer to Him. These pamphlets are overflowing with wisdom from one who’s been there.
Each would be a great gift to be shared with those loved ones we care about who are dealing with the battles and difficulties of life. Each is designed to help others find meaning and purpose from the molded breadcrumbs in their lives. These pamphlets can be gently tossed to those who need a life preserver, then followed up with encouraging words and showers of prayers.
Suffering teaches us who we really are. It is one of God’s tools to uproot sin in my life. Like the process of purifying gold, God turns up the heat of affliction, causing all the dross and impurities in my life to rise to the surface. Once impurities are revealed, they are more easily identified and removed. God is more concerned with my character than my comfort.
Joni Eareckson Tada
Pain and chronic illness can make you
question God and His power. Because we
know God holds all the keys of the universe, we also
know He sees and governs everything that happens on earth.
Joni Eareckson Tada
God calls us to give a supernatural response to injustice. God hates injustice and, yes, that
awful person who mistreated you deserves to be exposed, brought to justice, and rebuked. But whether or not that happens, I will not be bitter nor retaliate. I will return good for evil and bless rather than curse.
Joni Eareckson Tada
Gut-wrenching questions honor God.
Despair directed at God is a way of encountering Him, opening
ourselves up to the One and only Someone who can actually do something about our plight.
My despair ended up being my ally, because through it, He took
hold of me. We must turn our despair towards God.
Joni Eareckson Tada
A Sharing of their own Struggles
Joni is a prolific author of over 50 books, but this newest release is her first addressing their marriage and written with her devoted husband, Ken. Joni and Ken know firsthand how marriages can begin to deteriorate when suffering, illness, depression, and pain enter our lives. It’s the reason they wrote Joni and Ken: The Untold Love Story.
30 years of marriage and enduring their fair share of trails, Joni and Ken pull back the curtain to honestly reveal some of the toughest years of their lives together. It is their hope, “That the lessons learned through their depression, pain, and cancer will bolster others to stick to their vows, for better or for worse”.
Joni and Ken were married in 1982 at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
Since her diving accident at age 17 which left her severely paralyzed, life for Joni has not been easy. In addition, she has endured chronic pain for the past ten years. When a loved one is suffering, the spouse suffers as well. It’s part of being one in body and spirit.
Ken and Joni Tada in their earlier years. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
After the honeymoon was over, struggles emerged as Ken was overburdened by the routine of caring for his disabled wife. Every morning it takes two hours just to get her ready. During the evening hours, Joni has to be repeatedly turned over. Joni admits, “There were times when Ken would freeze emotionally, and become depressed, feeling trapped.” Joni at first responded by reminding him that he was fully aware of her disability when they married. That statement only made matters worse.
Openness and Honesty
Joni eventually realized that her husband simply needed for her to listen and understand, without casting blame. This trial led them to a higher degree of openness and honesty—a key to marriage survival. Together they held on to the Word of God. Joni admits, “It was DAILY prayer that prevented Satan from getting a toe-hold.”
Joni admits daily prayer has been a key to their success. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
It was what they learned during those days that gave the Tadas the spiritual foundation for a new enemy—cancer. After Joni’s mastectomy and chemotherapy, her already fragile lungs developed pneumonia. It was definitely “their worse” and Ken lovingly stayed up during the night helping her to cough and breathe, while wiping her drool and spit. Ken believes, “This ‘for worse’ journey of their lives only enhanced their love story.”
An Inspirational Woman
What Joni could not do through her hands and feet, she has accomplished through her gift of art, song and words. Pick up any of her devotional books or subscribe to her daily devotional http://www.joniandfriends.org/daily-devotional/ and your spirit will be lifted, no matter what trial you’re facing. You’ll understand why her inspiring life and testimony have become both a best-selling book and a popular movie which was distributed by the Billy Graham Organization starring Joni as herself. Joni has received numerous honors and honorary doctorates including the Doctorate of Humane Letters which was the first ever given by my alma mater, Columbia International University.
Joni believes that God is using people with disabilities to wake up the church. Photo coutesy of Joni and Friends.
A Voice for the Disabled
Joni’s ministry called Joni and Friends has taken Joni to speaking to enormous crowds in 37 countries. From family retreats to wheelchair ministries, Joni has elevated the status of many of the ten percent of people in this world labeled as disabled. She has become an advocate for those with disabilities. As one of them, she shares their burden and understands their plights. Her hope is for all churches to open doors to those who are disabled. Joni believes, “There are no accidents in God’s economy.”
Joni is excited when her ministry provides a walker enabling a boy the gift of movement. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
Learning How to Live Again
As for depression, this gal knows more than most. She readily admits in her darkest moments after her diving accident, she begged her own friends to help her take her own life. When they refused, she violently wrenched her head back and forth attempting to take her own life.
During those difficult days when she was overtaken by anger and depression, she sought healing. A friend introduced her to a Christian named Steve Estes. As they studied God’s word together, Joni realized her injury was an expression of God’s love. He was more interested in healing her soul than her body. She now realizes she confused the abundant Christian life with the pursuit of the American dream.
Her friend helped her to see that, “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” Joni now proclaims, “I’d rather be in this wheelchair knowing Him than on my feet without him.” Joni would not trade her intimacy with God for any amount of walking.
Joni believes, “We will stand amazed to see the topside of the tapestry and how God beautifully embroidered each circumstance into a pattern for our good and His glory." Photo Courtesy of Joni and Friends.
Life Before the Accident
Before her accident, Joni was on a road to self-destruction—a life not glorifying to the Lord. She cried out to God, “Rescue me.” And He did. After her suicide attempt, she again cried out to God, “If I can’t die, show me how to live.” That short, powerful prayer changed her life and lifted her depression. She now sees her accident as an example of Hebrews chapter 12 discipline.
Although at the time of her accident, she wished there was an assisted-suicide law, she is now strongly pro-life. By choosing to live, I marvel to think of all the lives this one woman of faith has touched in 45 years. Her greatest gift is her ability to reach from her own trials and inspire those who face similar trials. In a day when so many are struggling with depression, anger, fear and pain, Joni offers help for the hopeless.
Joni Eareckson Tada ministers to a disabled young woman and her family. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
Sonoma Contributor Ginny Dent Brant allows us to look deeper into the life of Joni through these questions.
SCH – Your marriage has endured for 30 years through your paralysis, chronic pain, and then cancer. What is the secret to keeping a marriage strong with so many obstacles?
Joni – My husband and I keep reminding ourselves that my disability is not ‘the enemy;’ for that matter, neither he nor I are the enemy! The devil is. And he would love nothing more than to destroy Christian marriages and drive wedges between husbands and wives. So Ken and I keep perspective by reading the Bible together (this is the 7th year we’ll be reading through the Bible in a year), and by praying together – whether we drive in the car, or at home relaxing, or on the way to or from an appointment. We realize we are in a fierce spiritual battle, and prayer and Bible reading help us keep our spiritual antennae on alert!
Joni and Ken believe one of the splash overs of heaven is finding Jesus in your hell. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
SCH – Chemotherapy for your cancer was far more dangerous and uncomfortable for you than the average person. What advice can you give for someone who’s about to enter this tunnel of life?
Joni - Having a good frame of mind helps! It helps to remember that the ‘poisonous drugs’ being infused into your body are actually there to kill and eradicate an even more dangerous enemy: cancer. Mark 16:18 is a curious verse when you relate it to chemotherapy, for it says of those who trust God, “… when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all.” When you’re in chemo lab, take a good inspirational book to read, plenty of healthy snacks, and a big bottle of fresh, cool water. And while you’re in chemo, look for ways to pray for the other patients near you; get to know their names and encourage them. Any trial seems lighter when you focus off “it” and onto others.
SCH – When life goes against you, how do you control your thoughts and feelings so anger and depression don’t take hold?
Joni – I once learned a phrase that went, “Never doubt in darkness what you believed in the light!” That’s so true. And so, whenever dark times come or seasons of discouragement, I always start singing a group of uplifting hymns whose words keep my focus on Jesus. I also rehearse passages of scripture that focus on the sovereignty of God. Finally, during the course of the day, I may even ask a co-worker, “I’m in a really sour frame of mind, would you please pray for me?” These are small but significant ways of ‘winning’ the battle and pushing back the darkness.
Joni and Ken work in ministry together. Here they are on the Joni and Friends daily radio broadcast. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
SCH – When the world heard that you were diagnosed with breast cancer, the common response was, “Oh Lord, hasn’t she suffered enough.” What were your first thoughts after being diagnosed? Were you tempted to blame God?
Joni - 1 Peter 4:12-14 was one of the first Bible verses that came to mind when the doctors told me, “You have cancer.” It reads, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” We should never be surprised at the trials – or the amount of trials – God sends our way. For as hard as they are, and as many as pile on, our trials only ‘pale’ in comparison to what our Savior endured on our behalf. And, of course, the servant is never above His Master. I’m not glorying in suffering; I’m just glorying in the God who can be found in suffering and the faith that can be refined.
A friend helps Joni to shave her head after chemotherapy. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends
SCH – And your marriage, what’s it like after cancer as opposed to before?
Joni – A friend told Ken and me not long ago, “Cancer has been very good to you two.” It was an odd thing to say, but we knew what she meant. In a way, my years of quadriplegia and struggle against chronic pain ‘prepared’ Ken and me for battling cancer. After all, Jeremiah 12:5 say, “If racing against mere men makes you tired, how will you race against horses? If you stumble and fall on open ground, what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?” Our battle against cancer was a “race against horses” and thank the Lord, the lessons of perseverance through pain that we had learned all these years in the past ‘fit’ us for battle against cancer.
Ken is the Manager of Development Services at Joni and Friends. He serves on the Board and travels with Joni. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
SCH – What advice can you give to someone who faces an uncertain future?
Joni - First, I would remind them that this life is not the only life there is; and neither is it the best one. A new life is coming and Psalm 39:4-6 tells us to pray, “Lord, make me to know my end, And what is the extent of my days, Let me know how transient I am. Behold, Thou hast made my days as handbreadths, And my lifetime as nothing in Thy sight, Surely every man at his best is a mere breath.” The cosmic stakes are so high, and this life is so short – the most important decision we will ever make for all of eternity, is how have answered the claims of Christ on our lives. Saying ‘yes’ to Jesus and submitting to Him as Lord is the only way to be assured that the other side of your tombstone holds happiness and not horror.
SCH – Adversity and suffering for those who are disabled is far more difficult for those who live in developing countries where the disabled are treated as second class citizens. What is your ministry doing to elevate the status of the disabled in this world?
Joni – I am the most blessed quadriplegic you will ever meet – I live in good health, with a great family, I have medical support, a job that means something, and a comfortable home. But I am mandated by God to ‘pass on’ those blessings. And so, Joni and Friends runs 15 Family Retreats for needy special needs families in developing nations (this week we have a Family Retreat in Thailand and Guatemala). We also seek to alleviate the suffering of people with disabilities in the Majority World through distributing wheelchairs and Bibles and doing disability ministry training in churches – we work with rehab institutes, clinics, and the government to create a different ‘culture’ of disability-awareness and acceptance. We want people to understand that cerebral palsy is not a curse from the local witch doctor or a punishment for sins committed! There are more than one billion people with disabilities in the world, 80% of whom live in desperate situations in the Majority World. We want to reach them with Christ’s help and hope.
A child with disabilities enjoys painting with a new friend at Joni and Friends family retreat. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
SCH - As the son of deaf parents, my husband grew up during the days when those disabled faced ridicule and discrimination. His parents lived to see this change to an attitude of acceptance and admiration. Did you experience any discrimination in your earlier years?
Joni - When I was first injured in the late 60’s, I would often go out in public to shopping malls – I was surprised that many clerks and waiters refused to engage me in conversation but, instead, looked to the person who stood behind my wheelchair. Back then, I would politely but firmly direct their attention to my requests. Things have improved vastly since then, and I’m grateful that most people with disabilities can venture out into the mainstream of life without fear of discrimination. There is, however, still discriminatory practices in play in areas of employment and education – much work needs to be done!
SCH – Do you believe churches are doing enough to reach disabled people in our country?
Joni - I believe our churches have made vast improvements in reaching out to special needs families over the last 20 years. Part of this is because of conditions such as autism and Alzheimer’s disease – the church can no longer ignore families that deal with these disabling conditions. Attitudes are slowly changing, and we’re hearing from many more churches who do, indeed, want to reach out and embrace special needs families.
Joni networks with other ministries that serve the disabled. Here she is with Nic Vujicic from Life without Limbs. Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
SCH – Ken, what’s it like to be the man behind one of the most inspiring and admired women in the Christian world?
Ken – God has given Joni the gift of communication as an artist, author, and speaker. He has given me the gift of serving him through the privilege and honor of serving my wife. We feel we are in this ministry together as a team.
SCH – And this working as a team has made this couple an inspiration to the world. May God’s blessing be upon both of them as they continue to take the Gospel to world where as Joni says, “God is bleeding out of control.”
Ken says, "This catastrophic diagnosis made me realize, I might not have Joni much longer. I only love her more." In 2001, Ken received the Robertson McQuilkin Award for honoring "The Courageous Love of a Marriage Covenant Keeper." Photo courtesy of Joni and Friends.
To order one of Joni’s books or for more information about Joni and Friends, go to www.joniandfriends.org
Want more of Ginny’s in-depth interviews? Check out An Exclusive Interview with Francine Rivers – A Gifted Storyteller
Ginny Dent Brant is an educator, writer, counselor, soloist, Christian speaker, and Bible teacher. Her book about her spiritual journey with her father, Harry S. Dent, Sr., Finding True Freedom: From the White House to the World was released in 2010 by CLC Publications. Chuck Colson was her cover endorser. Ginny and her husband Alton have three sons and live in Clemson, SC. To learn more visit www.ginnybrant.com
Feature Image: Joni and Ken by Dan Davis ; Courtesy of Zondervan Publishing