Encountering Joni

Oct 25

Years ago, not too long after Katherine’s stroke, while she was still in-patient at UCLA, we received correspondence from Joni Eareckson Tada.  For those of you unacquainted, Joni is an incredible woman whose life took a tragic turn very early on when she was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident at the age of 17.  Since then, she has inspired the world with her hope in the Lord, candor in her struggle, beauty and grace under intense suffering, unbelievably moving expressions of art and creativity, and her transformative advocacy for those dealing with disabilities of all kinds.  She currently lives in the LA area, though interestingly, she was alerted to our story by the overwhelming amount of letters written by members of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, where my Dad is the pastor.

Though we have since found many connects to her in our greater LA/Christian circles, we have not communicated with her for quite a while, nor had we ever met her in person, until we returned back to LA just a few weeks after Katherine’s leg break to find this letter…

A sure sign of maturity is someone who is so wise and has experienced so much, yet still finds inspiration from others who are less-traveled on the journey.  Joni heard that Katherine had broken her leg, and though she was so sad about it, she was greatly encouraged to hear Katherine’s hopeful response, and so she wrote us this letter.  I love the quote she included from Alan Redpath, “There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me.  If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose“.

What an encouraging moment for us.  We then set out to coordinate a time to visit with her at the Joni and Friends International Disability Center.

Not too long after, Katherine and I decided to attend the funeral of a friend’s mother at our church.  We actually didn’t even know her mother, but we felt it would be a small gesture to show our support for her great loss.  As we exited the elevator, heading to the sanctuary, we turned the corner and encountered Joni!  After quickly chatting with her, we found out she was not there for the funeral but rather to speak for a group of pastors on compassionately reaching their communities for Christ, particularly reaching out to those with disabilities.  The timing of the funeral coincided with her talk, so we promised to catch up with her another time.  Of course, after the funeral, we stuck our heads into the pastors’ conference only to find that a series of delays pushed back her talk, and she invited us to come right up to the front to listen!

Her heartfelt words rung so deeply, and though she has been quadriplegic for over 45 years, her pain and struggle were so palpable, and yet so was her revelatory trust, dependence, and hope in God working in her life.  I was particularly struck by her thoughts on compassion (“com-passion” meaning “with suffering”), and our calling to bear the burdens of others in the way Christ would, not just in the ways that are convenient and palatable for our lives and schedules (naturally, those words would be used by God in a totally separate circumstance just days later).  We were both speechless, and so grateful to have been given that providential encounter.

A few days later, we were further humbled and grateful when we received word that Joni had added our story to the “People That Inspire Joni” section of her website, and even more that she will be talking about our story and Hope Heals on her radio show on November 8th (we will post links at that time).  We are so excited about this “God wink” in our lives, and the future fruit that will come from our friendship with this dear woman.  He continues to weave together relationships and experiences into a blanket of encouragement and hope over us in ways we never could have anticipated but in ways that only He could.

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