The passage of time has a way of altering our perspective. When sad and hurtful memories are the primary focus, pain deepens into bitterness and resentment; when blessings and God's grace in the midst of trials fill our hearts, time beautifies the one remembering.
Joni Eareckson Tada's four decades as a quadriplegic exemplify the latter possibility. Every time I have heard her or watched her speak, the radiant peace and joy on her face attest to God's goodness and grace through trials I cannot fully grasp.
Joni's recent book, A Lifetime of Wisdom: Embracing the Way God Heals You (Zondervan, 2009), captures what she calls the rubies of wisdom gained over 40 years of severe physical disability and increasing chronic pain. Each chapter presents a vignette from her early years of paralysis, followed by a longer account of the strength and comfort she has found for or through that particular struggle. Almost unbelievably, she has arrived at a place where she can honestly thank the Lord for her wheelchair.
In recording what she would have liked her younger self to know, she offers comfort, hope, and encouragement to others facing chronic illness or disability. The intensity of her own suffering lends authority and grace to her words to the suffering. I also found the book humbling. Her trials have far exceeded mine, but her response through the decades shines with nobility and courage I have lacked in relatively minor struggles of much shorter duration.
Two anecdotes particularly challenged and encouraged me. Her dependence on others for physical needs such as bedtime and waking routines has often meant 12-hour nights alone in bed in the dark. She understands the fear and loneliness of keeping company with pain in the night watches, but she has learned to practice Bible and hymn memorization during the day with her helpers so she has a place to hang her thoughts during those long periods of solitude and silence. What a challenging but inspiring example! The book also records a conversation with a Canadian missionary who also suffered long with chronic pain. The missionary friend encouraged Joni from Psalm 10:17 that the inability to pray because of the distracting, concentration-breaking effects of pain is not in itself sin. In such cases, she said, the Lord hears the afflicted one's desire to pray as prayer. This has not often been my experience, but it was at the time I first read that account, and I found the story and Scripture deeply comforting.
All in all, I heartily recommend this book to those seeking to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him fully in the midst of pain, weakness, and infirmity. Joni's gentle wisdom and inspiring testimony offer hope that God truly heals souls even where He chooses not to heal bodies during this life. It may also benefit caregivers as an aid to understanding the emotional and spiritual struggles their loved ones face.