Popular, intelligent, and athletic, 17-year-old Joni Earekson had her whole life before her.
Then, one fateful day in 1967, she dived into water that was too shallow, smashed her head on a rock, and broke her neck.
Her sister pulled her out of the water, and she was rushed to hospital. A doctor with a metal pin kept asking her, “Can you feel this?” But she felt nothing from the neck down. She was paralysed.
At first, doctors held out the hope that the damaged nerves might heal themselves. But they didn’t. After four weeks, they announced that the injury was permanent. She would never walk again, and he would have only limited use of her arms.
A deep depression set in, as she realised all that she had lost. Glancing at herself in the mirror, she screamed, “God, how can you do this to me!”
When she asked a friend to help her die, the friend refused. She realised that she was too helpless even to die on her own.
A visitor tried to cheer her up by quoting the words of Jesus: “I have come to give you live in all its fullness.” The words seemed to mock her, as she contemplated the empty life that she now faced.
Three long and painful years passed before she began to realise that fullness of life might still be a possibility.
One key moment came when a friend clumsily blurted out, “Joni, you aren’t the only one. Jesus knows how you feel – he was paralysed too. He was nailed onto a cross.”
Slowly, Joni began to realise that God does know and care. In her helplessness, she found herself clinging to him, trusting in him, hoping in him. She wondered if, having learned a vital lesson about God’s unfailing love, he would now heal her. She and her friends prayed enthusiastically for a miracle, but none came.
Maybe God’s gift to me is dependence. I will never reach a place of self-sufficiency that crowds God out. I am aware of his grace every moment. My need for help is obvious every day when I wake up, flat on my back, waiting for someone to come dress me. I can’t even comb my hair or blow my nose alone!
But…peace is internal, and God has lavished me with that peace.
[What is more,] I have hope for the future now. The Bible speaks of our bodies being “glorified” in heaven…I now realize that I will be healed. I haven’t been cheated out of being a complete person—I’m just going through a forty or fifty-year delay, and God stays with me even through that.
I now know the meaning of being “glorified.” It’s the time, after my death here, when I’ll be on my feet dancing.
Actually, from a place of complete dependence upon God, Joni has been able to build a life in which she has become an accomplished artist, singer, writer and speaker. The distinguished Bible teach Dr Jim Packer says that he twice had the privilege of introducing Joni:
Each time I have ventured to predict that her message would show her to be the healthiest person in the building–a prediction which, so far as I could judge, came true both times.*
To borrow some words from Jesus himself:
“This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in [her] life.”
Based, with one exception (*) on:
Yancey, Philip. Where Is God When It Hurts? (p. 131-142). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.