The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking with Jesus—A Memoir
by Joni Eareckson Tada
Zondervan, 2003, 357pp.
I was delighted to discover this updated autobiography of Joni for a couple of reasons. First, I remember enjoying her original book, JONI years ago (1976) when it came out. Secondly, I was eager to read her story again because recently I've bumped into very strong antagonism toward her testimony. Having myself admired her strong faith in the face of quadriplegia I was surprised to hear her accused of undermining the faith of those with similar conditions. It seems that her outspoken testimony to God's grace in the midst of suffering has been construed to be a stumbling stone to faith for healing in those who are touched by her ministry. In other words, since she didn't experience healing, it would have been better for her to have kept silent than to create a ministry to disabled persons! Really?! What has happened to a well-reasoned, Biblical doctrine of suffering as part of the Christian life?
Anyway, with that background in mind I read with especial interest this new memoir of Joni's, curious as to her thoughts on healing. Had she sought it for herself? And how did she come to terms with not being healed? Her beautifully woven story lingers long on her happy childhood prior to the accident, painting idyllic pictures of family camping trips, hymn sings around the campfire, and of her father's memorable storytelling. It describes an athletic, even daredevil, Joni who rode and showed horses, swam, and ran competitively and loved to play piano and draw. But it also tells with candid humility and perceptiveness of her inner longings and struggles growing up, of finding a tangible relationship with God and of the disconcerting reality of having a rebellious bent still.
Then at age 17, a daring dive left her paralyzed from the shoulders down. She doesn't belabor the gritty details of her recovery nor does she hide the dark depressing moments. But having the perspective of time and maturity she is able to look back and highlight the poignant moments when God came near in one way or another. It is a beautiful story of being drawn from bitterness to acceptance and then beyond to actually seeing her 'accident' as a blessing in disguise. (And yes, I should insert, she did seek healing, even attending a Kathryn Kuhlman crusade, and she did grapple with a Biblical understanding of healing, but it is almost an aside to her story). This volume extends her earlier story to describe how God took her, wheelchair and all, and gave her incredible opportunities to share Him with the world, including the founding of Joni and Friends, a ministry focused on bringing the Gospel tangibly to those who suffer with disabilities.
But this is no dry recounting of some vague 'ministry years'. Joni's love of life exudes from its pages. She came to see her wheelchair as her ticket to adventure because of all the opportunities it gave her. I love this memoir for its personal and candid tone. Joni never speaks from a pedestal of easy victory, but takes the reader through her own thoughts and struggles as she processes the deaths of each of her parents, and months and years of physical pain (no, paralysis doesn't imply life will be pain-free). She shares her delights too, among them marriage, but most of all finding that yes, God has given her the real desire of her heart—He has given her Himself. Her wise and joyful memoir is a rare treasure in our times, when blessings are often equated with physical comfort and well-being. It is a testimony to the reality that God often permits things he hates in order to bring about something more important that He really loves. Joni's conclusion: "…yes—There are more important things in life than walking."
I highly recommend The God I Love to anyone grappling with disappointment, pain, or 'unanswered' prayer, or just desiring to perceive God's love in a greater way. It will point you to the God who may not rescue us from our circumstances in the way we had hoped but whose love will ultimately prove far greater than we could have imagined!
May God strengthen our hearts to know this love, that we "may be able to comprehend with all saints what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Eph.3:18,19
And here's a sampling of Joni's thoughts…
"Even paralyzed people can walk with the Lord." p221
"The truth was, I knew I would always struggle—I would always feel weak and needy of God. and that was okay. It was supposed to be that way. I was supposed to be dependent on him." p225
"For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." Phil.1:21
"Each mile I put between the past and the future in your hand, I learn more of your providence and I find out who I am." p240
"Our eyes met, and --it was amazing—from that point, everything changed. How I looked no longer mattered. No longer did I feel ugly or unworthy. The love in Ken's eyes washed it all away. I was the pure and perfect bride—his bride. That's what he saw, and that's what changed me." p252
"One day…all the stains of earthly life will be purified away, just by one look from God's eyes. We'll be transformed forever by his gaze upon us…It will be more than I ever dreamed of, more than I ever longed for." p253
"[God] permits what he hates so that his power can show up in people like you and me." p263