Wheelchair-bound for 50 years, she leans on God’s grace

Published 12:23 am Saturday, July 29, 2017

Of all the inspiring people I’ve met or read about in my lifetime, Joni Eareckson Tada tops the list.  Joni (pronounced like Johnny) recently posted this message on Facebook.

“This week I’m getting out the party favors, hanging balloons, and throwing streamers because this Sunday (July 30) marks the 50th anniversary of God’s faithfulness to me in my wheelchair (only I would ‘celebrate’ something like a diving accident)!  But when I see how God has changed me in it, and encouraged others through it, my heart overflows with joy. Only God could turn a tragic accident that felt so despairing, into a platform for His Gospel to go forth!”

Fifty years ago, Joni dove into the shallow water of Chesapeake Bay.  In seconds, her life changed from athletic to quadriplegic.  She was paralyzed from her shoulders down, due to a broken neck.

There’s no way 17-year-old Joni could have known that going swimming that day in 1967 would mean she’d spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.  But in spite of her tragic circumstances, she has overcome bitterness, endured suffering, and still found meaning in life.

“After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations,” according to her biography.  She became a talented artist, painting beautiful drawings by holding a small brush in her mouth.

In 1976, Joni wrote about her life-changing experience in an autobiography that has been translated into more than 45 languages resulting in more than 4 million copies in print. She retold her life story in a movie called “Joni,” released in 1979.  It’s been shown around the world, resulting in over 250,000 decisions for Christ. A digitized version of the movie was recently released to coincide with her 50 year anniversary in a wheelchair.

She founded Joni and Friends in 1979 to provide Christ-centered ministry to special-needs families, as well as training for churches. As Luke 14 tells us, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed…make them come in so my house will be full.” Some 10,000 wheelchairs are collected every year and distributed in over 86 countries. Week-long Family Retreats are held for those who live with a disability

Joni Eareckson and her husband, Ken Tada, were married in 1982.  They live in California and both serve at Joni & Friends. In 2010, Joni was diagnosed with breast cancer and began taking chemo. She found that prayerfully quoting God’s Word helped her through her treatments. In her book, God’s Hand in Our Hardship, Joni writes, “The weaker I am, the harder I must lean on God’s grace; the harder I lean on him, the stronger I discover him to be, and the bolder my testimony to his grace.”

Joni can say, “Suffering has helped me to appreciate so much more the cross and what my Savior accomplished there. And when problems for me pile on even higher—like chronic pain and cancer on top of quadriplegia—then it drives me even deeper into the arms of Jesus.”


– Jan White is an award-winning columnist. She can be reached at jwhite@andycable.com.