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Joni Eareckson Tada shares message of finding true peace and joy through suffering

Joni Eareckson Tada talks about finding joy through suffering during a recorded interview with Liberty University Vice President for Spiritual Development Josh Rutledge aired during Friday morning’s Convocation.

As disabled as she was physically by a diving accident into the Chesapeake Bay that left her paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 17, Joni Eareckson Tada is as spiritually alive and energized at age 74 as any missionary in the field, equipped to run her race as an ambassador for Christ.

“Joni doesn’t stop,” Liberty University Vice President for Spiritual Development Josh Rutledge told students during his introduction to Friday morning’s Convocation. “She keeps going and going. She starts pursuing Jesus in her 20s and she doesn’t stop. ‘What kind of person could you become if you follow Jesus through suffering not for a season, but for a lifetime … if you put your head down and faithfully pursue Jesus for 30, 40, 50 years?’ That’s Joni Eareckson Tada.”

Eareckson Tada’s Convocation appearance was through a pre-recorded video interview with Rutledge out of the art studio in her home in Calabasas, Calif.

Her autobiography, “Joni,” published in 1976, became an international bestseller. She became an international advocate for the disabled, launching Joni and Friends in 1979, an organization that continues to bring practical help and Gospel hope to people with disabilities around the world, and “Joni and Friends Radio Program” in 1982. She and her husband, Ken Tada, have reached millions through the organization with the hope of Christ.

The last time Eareckson Tada visited Liberty, for Convocation in 2010, was soon after she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. She has lived out Romans 8:28 throughout her journey to sanctification.

“It’s not like I’m famous or well-spoken or … a great writer or a great communicator, but that God uses weak things in this world to showcase His power and His glory and His grace is such an honor,” Joni said. “When I think of all the pain that has happened since (1978, when she first visited Thomas Road Baptist Church and spoke to Liberty students), I would still say the same thing. God is good, and He fits everything — the cancer, the chronic pain, the pulmonary hypertension, the paralysis — into this incredible good for our life. I wouldn’t trade what I have learned in these 46 years since then for any amount of walking.”

Liberty student Jaiden Lane is one of the millions of people around the world Eareckson Tada has inspired, and she shared this from her own wheelchair in a video message.

“One of the most unreached communities in the world is the disabled community,” Lane said. “Something that Joni has had for such a long time is this innate ability to see everyone’s potential, and that’s something that I want to take with me in whatever occupation the Lord has for me.”

At the time of her diving accident, Joni thought it unfair that God would leave her in that state for good. But it has turned out for her good.

Joni Eareckson Tada visits Thomas Road Baptist Church and its pastor, Liberty University founder Dr. Jerry Falwell, on Sept. 30, 1979.

“I just thought God was asking way too much of me… to never be able to use my hands and legs,” she said. “Someone said to me, ‘Well, maybe you ought to focus on what God’s already given rather than what He’s asking of you.’”

She cited Romans 8:32: “He who has given us His own Son, gives us all things to be able to persevere and endure.”

“All of my questions for why in the world God has allowed my suffering pale when I think of them hanging Jesus up (on the cross) and what Jesus sacrificed on behalf of me,” Eareckson Tada said. “We have every reason to live stalwart, brave, courageous, joyful, happy lives that are a testimony to this dark culture, that (the world) will not find answers by looking inward, only by looking outward and upward.”

She compared running her race to that of a marathon runner who endures to the finish line, citing a magazine article by a sports psychologist who wrote about how marathoners carry their pain with them.

“They don’t fight it, they don’t complain about it,” she said. “They have a peaceful (posture and mindset), take a deep breath, and move into it, as fiery as it is. It’s a way of believing God and saying, ‘Somehow, you’re going to meet me in this pain, so why should I be angry about it?’”

She said Christians are often asked to share in the sufferings of Jesus, to meet Him on the road to Calvary.

“It means picking up your cross daily and dying to the sins that He died for on His cross. When you do this, when you’re holy as He is holy, you’re going to discover the peace and joy and satisfaction and sweetness of the Savior.”

(Photo by Matt Reynolds)

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