My mother always looked at Joni Eareckson Tada (the famed Christian writer/speaker/artist who became a quadriplegic due to a diving accident at age 17) with a little jealously. Joni had financial advantages that I didn’t (plus an able-bodied husband) to give her steady personal care. I, on the other hand, require government assistance and constantly struggle to keep Personal Care Attendants. Joni could earn money without jeopardizing any benefits; I can’t.
But my mom, because she wasn’t a Christian, couldn’t make an accurate comparison between me and Joni. I believe the years have helped me see differences between Joni’s life and my own that matter far more than financial stability. To my surprise, these differences make me wonder if perhaps Joni should be the jealous one.
Joni Eareckson Tada has effectively used her disability, as well as her chronic pain and her battle against breast cancer, to minister to hurting people. The Lord has used her books, speaking engagements, artwork and singing to bring hope to many people. For years, I eagerly followed her ministry. I’ve met her on four occasions, and felt a bit star-struck the first three times. Joni indeed exemplifies how a Christian woman can use her disability to honor the Lord.
But I’ve never really appreciated it when admiring friends, well-meaning though they are, compare me to Joni. I’ve often threatened to write a book titled I’m Not Joni.
Instead, I write an obscure little blog called The Outspoken TULIP that focuses on the importance of sound doctrine, problems in the evangelical church, the Protestant Reformation and concerns over false teaching. Once in a while, I mention my disability, but only as a peripheral fact of life that I can’t exactly hide. But my blog reflects my passion for God’s Word and for leading women to contend for the faith.
Joni, I believe, suffers tremendously. She often recounts, in speaking engagements, how she typically wakes up in the morning telling the Lord she just can’t endure another day of quadriplegia and asking Him to let her borrow a smile to greet the ladies who get her up. Sometimes I wake up asking the Lord to let her wake up cheerful and smiling. It must be terrible to begin so many days consumed with the weight of disability.
In contrast, I have an awfully hard time (even during debilitating migraines) thinking that I really suffer. I compare myself to disabled people in Third World countries, many of whom don’t even have manual wheelchairs, much less customized power wheelchairs that zip all over downtown Boston with and without the augmentation of public transportation.
I compare myself to Joni, who can’t even wake up cheerful.
Clearly, I’m nothing like Joni Eareckson Tada, and I don’t think I’d trade my life for hers.I admire her love for Jesus, of course, and praise God for the ways her organization, Joni and Friends, serves people afflicted by disability worldwide (though I’m not necessarily endorsing it at this point). But I am different from her in many respects. Please, join me in praying that she wakes up comfortable tomorrow morning.